Uses of Heroes | Self-development

It is probably true that as we get older we become surer of who we are, but the potential to grow remains throughout our lives. Carl Jung, a pioneering and influential psychologist, advocated a path of self-development that he referred to as individuation.

Jung’s concept of integration is not in fact that of a static mental condition, although it is sometimes misinterpreted as being so. In Jung’s view, the development of the personality toward integration and mental health is an ideal which is never entirely reached or, if temporarily attained, is bound to be superseded. Jung thought that the achievement of optimum development of the personality was a lifetime’s task which was never completed … 2

Jung believed that we should always seek to grow; that, despite never being able to reach an ‘ideal’ state, we should always be striving to be the best, and the most, we can be. As our identity solidifies, the process of change that we go through may become slower and less dramatic, but our ability to develop remains.

By the time we reach adulthood we will possess a number of self-schema - these are generalizations about the self, derived from past experience. For example, a person may believe themselves to be shy: this belief – ‘I am a shy person’ – will impact upon future interactions and experiences, and can lead to the building of new schema, based around the idea of shyness (‘I’m no good at public speaking’, ‘I’m no good at talking to the opposite sex’, and so on).

To change and to grow can be a trying process, and may involve letting go of ideas that we had formerly held close. It is perhaps no surprise then that we eventually reach an age where we believe that ‘we are who we are’. In thinking this we close a door within ourselves, which may come as a relief for some; however, as Jung pointed out, we are never beyond growth.

… for the average person, the undermining and destruction of a cherished vision of reality can be a shattering experience. Such an upheaval is comparable to the disturbance a man suffers when a person in whom he has had ‘basic trust’ turns out to be unfaithful or untrustworthy … Schemata, philosophies, religions, scientific theories, and even aesthetic prejudices, can all act as bulwarks against the basic, cosmic anxiety which we all suffer when we realize how large and how indifferent the world is, and how small and helpless is each individual in it. No wonder we resent having our cherished illusions shattered, our traditional way of looking at things challenged.3

If we are always growing, then it follows that there will always be people that we look up to; we may not call them heroes, but these people play as important a role as those that we admired in our youth.