The Individuating Aspects of Physical Disability

The Individuating Aspects of Physical Disability

My name is Ryan Adamczyk. I’ve been living in Charlotte North Carolina for 7 years and work as a mental health therapist. I graduated with my Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from the Adler School of Professional Psychology in April of 2010 and earned in my PhD. in Depth Psychology in June of 2018. For more information about my therapy practice follow this link.


Life is full of opportunities to walk the path of individuation. In Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious Jung states, “I use the term ‘individuation’ to denote the process by which a person becomes a psychological ‘in-dividual,’ that is, a separate, indivisible unity or whole” (1959/1969, p. 200 [CW 9, pt. 1, para. 490]).

It is important to note, however, that one doesn’t become individuated but rather he or she is always individuating. Interpreted through this perspective individuation is a process of ceaseless becoming and it is this very process that allows the individual to transcend the collective dynamics of the culture in which they live. One opportunity that opens the path of individuation is the experience of physical disability.

The phenomenon of a physical disability presents a unique set of challenges for the individual because there are two main areas of adversity, namely the physical and social adversities. Moreover, the individual faces impairment and the fear or discomfort from other people who are non-disabled within the culture at large. Before delving into the archetypal significance of physical disability, however, I wish to write about my personal experience with this phenomenon and how I have found the theories of CG Jung to be a welcome and effective psychological theory that allows me to view my experience as preparing me for individuation.

My Story: A Short Autobiographical Piece

I am writing as a man with a physical disability. When I was 18 months old I suffered a stroke, which has left me impaired on my right side (Adamczyk, 2018, p. 2). The left hemisphere of my brain was affected by the stroke. After the stroke, my parents sought legal representation because it was believed that the unnecessary roughness of the attending physician led to a traumatic brain injury, which resulted with the stroke a year and a half later. This belief, however, did not produce any evidence and the theory returned to us inconclusive. It wasn’t until years later that my mother discovered that a viral infection called vasculitis caused the stroke. Moreover, the vasculitis caused swelling in my brain and the stroke was a result of a lack of oxygen to the brain. I was forced to relearn how to perform the basic motor skills and due to the fact, that my brain was so malleable at a young age, I was able to recover most of what I had lost as a result of the stroke.

School was unforgiving at times. There is an experience in the first grade that has left an indelible mark upon me to this very day. My first grade teacher told me that I would never make it past the second grade. This negative statement led to a parent and teacher conference that included myself, my parents, the teacher in question, and the principal. A classmate friend was also present for moral support. After the situation was addressed, the school social worker made a request that each person say one positive thing about me. When it was time for the principal to make his statement he said, “Ryan is a small fish in a big pond.” The impact of this experience upon me is unquestionable because an interesting thing occurred. Second grade became psychological. Everything that I have accomplished following this experience has been my second grade, which ranges from gaining employment to earning my doctorate. James Hillman, the father of Archetypal Psychology sheds light on this subject. Hillman (2007) suggests that the archetypal Child’s cry cannot be cured but remains a necessity giving voice to the abandoned child (p. 95). This archetypal second grade continues to challenge and open the path of individuation for me as I progress through life.

As I grew up and entered into adolescence, a newfound consciousness flooded into my psyche. I started to notice the physical differences between myself and my male peers. The two areas of sports and dating stood as hallmarks of the high school experience (Adamczyk, 2018, p. 4). Furthermore, I remember avoiding physical sports due to the shame of being physically disabled. As I reflect upon this period of my life as a depth psychologist, I cannot help but entertain the idea that this was due, in part, to an early complex where I felt physically inferior to my male peers. This complex activates whenever there is perceived competition between myself and a non-disabled male counterpart. An imposter complex places me momentarily under psychological paralysis.

Jung (1983) writes, “And in fact, an active complex puts us momentarily under a state of duress, of compulsive thinking and acting, for which under certain conditions the only appropriate term would be the judicial concept of diminished responsibility” (as cited in Storr, p. 38). This complex, which I would later define as a bodily perfection complex in my dissertation, created a sense of emotional paralysis in me. I was not the typical high school boy with a good reputation in sports and having a beautiful girlfriend and a car that would make any guy envious of my success. This, of course, is the great paradox of individuation because not only does it lead to psychological transformation but the process can be grueling and painful. Moreover, it is a pain that is caused sometimes by an involuntary alienation from one’s peers. The pain of separation from the collective of my schoolmates, however, enables me to reenter any social situation with a confidence in the knowledge that my physical differentness has given me the ability to overcome hardship and share my story with others. The road to individuation can be painful, however, this is an experience that leads to personal growth and the development of one’s character as he or she traverses forward on the path to greater psychological understanding.

The areas of faith and spirituality have always been strong pillars in my life. However, I soon discovered that even those in the Christian church are not immune from their biased preconceptions. It was difficult finding acceptance in the church youth group. One member of this youth group explained to me that the reason why he and others in the youth group did not interact with me as they did with each other was because I am physically disabled. Jung (1983) shares some helpful insight concerning the Imatatio Christi that is worth considering, “It is precisely this veneration for the external object that prevents it from reaching down into the depths of the psyche and giving the latter a wholeness in keeping with the ideal” (as cited in Storr, p. 257). The Imatatio Christi or imitation of Christ describes the ability to participate in individuation. Jung considered Christ to be the par excellence of the Self for those in the West. Yet, many who identify themselves as followers of Christ consistently miss this ideal of living their own life. In applying Jung’s insight it makes sense to me that the external object is the physically disabled body (Adamczyk, p. 4). Preoccupation with the discomfort and fear surrounding the disabled body made it difficult or even kept my youth group peers from recognizing the individuating aspects of physical disability.

Afterward, I turned to the field of psychology for answers to the many questions that remained unanswered. Moreover, I earned my first Master’s degree from the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago Illinois. I felt a kindred spirit in Alfred Adler because as a child he suffered from rickets, which was a vitamin D deficiency that caused bone softening. Adler was forced to sit out of physical sports whereas, his older brother participated (Adler, 2006, p. 51). Adler popularized terms such as inferiority feelings, superiority feelings, organ inferiority, and compensation, to name a few (Adamczyk, 2018, p. 5). Furthermore, under the auspices of the power principle Adler sought to establish a sense of social justice (p. 52). At the time, I felt that Adler’s theory of Individual Psychology would equip me with the necessary tools to help in the consciousness rising of many non-disabled persons regarding the individuating aspects of physical disability. Something was missing because the psyche is largely absent in Adler’s psychology. Moreover, when exploring the subject of physical disability the psyche has a prominent place in the investigative process. As we explore the phenomenon of physical disability, our chief focus should be to find meaning in the experience and not simply to explain it. I will share a personal experience that serves to exemplify this dynamic. In one of my classes at Pacifica Graduate Institute, I was introduced to my archetypal astrological birth chart. What was particularly fascinating about this exercise was the positioning of Chiron on my birth chart. The Chiron symbol represents the individual’s wounding. On my birth chart the Chiron symbol resides in the first house, which is between the ages of 0 and 2 years old. My stroke wounded me when I was 1 1⁄2 years old (Adamczyk, 2018, p. 6). This revelation showed me that there exists an underlying archetypal dynamic to my experience.

The Failure of Behavioral Psychology

It is the job of psychology to help the individual find meaning in the experience. Today, psychology is lacking in the area of discovering meaning. The modality of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy appears to dominate the psychological landscape. The main theory with a CBT approach consists, in large part, of the idea that once depressogentic symptoms are identified they need to be changed or cured. This stems from the view that the individual must change or at least alter the situation in which they are disturbing themselves (Sweetland, 1990, p. 72). Moreover, this creates a problem for the individual with a physical disability because the disability itself cannot be changed or altered. CBT has the ability to identify the depressogenic symptoms that accompany physical disability but it can do nothing to help the individual reimagine their experience. This inability is a result of the negative attitude that many behavioral theorists have had regarding an imaginal approach. B.F. Skinner’s mentor John B. Watson openly disparages this approach. “Most of the psychologists talk quite volubly about the formation of new pathways in the brain, as though there were a group of tiny servants of Vulcan there who run through the nervous system with hammer and chisel digging new trenches and deepening old ones” (as cited in Doige, p. 137). Even though Watson is using archetypal language to discount an imaginal approach, the point is clear, that behavioral psychology is unwilling to grant recognition of the importance of this depth psychological perspective. This puts a behavioral approach at a disadvantage because it makes its practice one dimensional. In The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche Jung states, “Truth that appeals to the testimony of the senses may satisfy reason, but it offers nothing that stirs our feelings and expresses them by giving a meaning to human life” (1960/1969, p. 263 [CW 8, para. 683]). Depth Psychology’s chief focus is the care of soul over the reduction of symptoms.

Depth Psychology and the Symptom’s Restorative Nature

Elsewhere, Jung suggests that one’s symptomatology of their illness is a natural attempt at healing (1960/1969, p. 116 [CW 8, para. 312]). Rather than, looking for ways to reduce the symptoms, a depth psychological perspective seeks to discover in what ways they can lead to psychological growth. Hillman has written extensively on this subject. The four moves of archetypal psychology, namely personifying, pathologizing, psychologizing, and soul making are ways in which the imagination helps the individual discover insight. For the sake of this article, I will be discussing the archetypal move of pathologizing. Hillman states, “Psychopathology as an archetypal fantasy means that the soul produces crazed patterns and sicknesses, perversions and decay, within dreams and behavior, and in art and thought, in war and politics, and in religion, because pathologizing is a psychic activity per se” (1975, p. 78). Hillman compliments Jung’s original idea of the symptom’s healing capabilities because he presents pathologizing as a natural impulse of the psyche to reorient itself to consciousness. “The pathological experience gives an indelible sense of soul, unlike those we may get through love or beauty, through nature, community, or religion” (1989, p. 148). The experience of physical disability can open the individual to a deeper sense of soul so that his or her character can be developed. Furthermore, in the interest of more soulful exploration into the experience of physical disability, the archetypal dynamic of the Senex and Puer will be discussed in the forthcoming section.

A Union Between the Old and the Young: An Archetypal Approach

The experience of physical disability can be explored through the archetypal dynamic of the Senex and the Puer. In his book titled: Senex and Puer (2005), Hillman elaborates upon both archetypal energies. “Senex is the Latin word for ‘old man.’ We find it still contained within our words senescence, senile and senator. … Personifications of this principle appear in the holy or old wise man, the powerful father or grandfather, the great king, ruler, judge, ogre, counselor, elder, priest, outcast and cripple” (p. 497-498). The cripple is one personification that reflects the potency of the senex’s archetypal energy. Moreover, it is this personification that we must bear in mind when we encounter the archetypal energy of the puer. “Puer wounds always occur in specific images within specific stories, and more: they are local wounds to specific body parts: Achilles’s heel, Pelops’s shoulder” (2005, p. 427). The locations where puer wounds manifest correspond to the personification of the cripple that embodies the senex archetypal energy. What’s more, this dynamic reveals the importance of a union between the old and the young. Hillman (2005) states, “The son does not need the father, whereas the puer seeks recognition from the father [another personification of the senex], recognition of spirit by spirit that leads to eventual fatherhood in the puer itself” (p. 231, emphasis added). While the puer is receiving recognition from the senex an insight is imparted. “But the truth is that the melancholy is the knowledge: the poison is the antidote. This would be the senex’s most destructive insight: our senex order rests on senex madness. Our order is itself a madness” (2005, p. 555-556). What impact does this insight have? This insight encourages the explorative desires of the puer. Hence, the senex offers psychological grounding while the puer draws attention to the wound of specific body parts (Hillman, 2005, p. 427). Additionally, this archetypal dynamic of the senex and puer opens the psyche to the value of the wound and it reveals the individuating aspects of physical disability.


The works of Jung, Hillman, and others in the depth psychological tradition offer a refreshing point of view that reimagines the experience of a physical disability. What separates this perspective from other psychological theories is the care of soul. One’s orientation to the care of the soul enables the individual to enter into the archetypal interplay between the senex and the puer. Surrounded by this archetypal field, there is a certain excitement associated with exploring how an experience such as physical disability can lend itself to the development of one’s character. It is important for me to note, however, that I am not trying to present a depth psychological approach through rose colored glasses. One element of a depth psychological approach that I appreciate is that it doesn’t seek to exchange negative aspects with positive aspects of an experience. The individuating aspects of physical disability utilizes the negative to unveil the positive. This is reminiscent of what I have written above, namely that individuation can be a painful process. Moreover, the illustration of giving birth exemplifies this dynamic. The process includes many birth pangs but once a birth of consciousness occurs, the pain no longer holds sway over the individual. Instead, the joy of the birth is embraced.


Adamczyk, R. R. (2018). Reimagining physical disability: A second look at its phenomenal and archetypal significance (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertation Publishing.

Adler, A. (1956). The individual psychology of Alfred Adler. H. L. Ansbacher & R. R. Ansbacher (Eds.). (pp. 22-29). New York, NY: HarperPerennial.

Adler, A. (2006). The general system of individual psychology H. T. Stein (Ed.). Bellingham,WA: The Classical Adlerian Translation Project.

Doidge, N. (2007). The brain that changes itself: Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Hillman, J. (1975). Re-visioning psychology. New York, NY: Harper.

Hillman, J. (1989). A blue fire. Selected writings from James Hillman. New York, NY:HarperCollins.

Hillman, J. (2005). Senex and puer. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications.

Hillman, J. (2007). Mythic figures. Putnam, CT: Spring Publications.

Jung, C. G. (1969). The archetypes of the collective unconscious (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.), In H. Read et al. (Series Eds.), The collected works of C.G. Jung (vol. 9 pt. 1, 2nd. ed., pp. 3-41). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1959)

Jung, C. G. (1969). The structure and dynamics of the psyche (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). New York,NY: Bollingen Foundation. (Original work published 1960)

Storr, A. (1983). The essential Jung. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Sweetland, J. D. (1990). Cognitive behavioral therapy and physical disability. Journal of Rational Emotive Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, 8(2), 71-78.

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Comments (9)

  • Stephen Fraser Reply

    Great article.

    May 22, 2019 at 4:58 pm
    • Ryan Adamczyk Reply

      Thanks, Stephen!

      May 23, 2019 at 4:04 pm
  • Jennifer Reply

    Thank you for sharing

    May 22, 2019 at 6:42 pm
    • Ryan Adamczyk Reply

      Thanks, Jennifer!

      May 23, 2019 at 4:03 pm
  • Elaine Reply

    Reimagining the experience of physical disability! I would like to understand more about how this is different from approaches such as brain retraining (“vulcans digging trenches”) with attempts at creating new neural pathways. My own physical disabilty is a neuroimmune response. I can see that better care of the soul could improve my life but would that not be the case for most people able or disabled?

    May 23, 2019 at 12:22 pm
    • Ryan Adamczyk Reply

      Hi Elaine. Thank you for your response. The idea of reimagining physical disability stems from the research I did in my dissertation of the same name or title. In it, I write about the importance of creating a personal myth. The individual with a physical disability, through the lens of depth psychology, can develop a story that can counter the predominant narrative of the culture that may look at disability as wholly negative. In my opinion, this is one example of an approach to brain retraining. The book that I cite by Doige i.e. The brain that changes itself, discusses the elasticity of the brain. Also, if you read a book by Brene Brown titled: Rising strong you find how the development of a story has neurological significance.

      May 23, 2019 at 4:02 pm
  • Elaine Reply

    Thanks Ryan, really helpful statement about the predominant narrative of the culture. In both the US and UK, the predominant narrative around my physically debilitating condition is that it is not physical but a mental disorder. The separation of mind and body as well as the denial of a condition for which there is not yet a definitive diagnostic test (diagnosis by exclusion) and therefore no specific treatment or support, resulting in skepicism… You have given me much to reflect on in terms of reimagining that very damaging narrative, thank you! I know this is slightly different to other disabilities, but i see your point about the negativity.

    May 26, 2019 at 6:46 pm
  • atk305 Reply

    Thank you for sharing this. I have epilepsy and can relate in many ways.

    December 9, 2019 at 6:47 am
  • aje.collings Reply

    I have an acquired disability hemiplegiato the left side of my body.from stroke and amin my fourth year as a stroke survivor. I wqas kind of lucky that I had a rich spiritual life and had delved int omy ancethere are new challenges to surmount, the hokey cokey is off my dance card I have completed a 12step programme. .Part of me feels it was all in preparation for the Magnus Opus which I have just started. I dont see too good these days as you can probably read , it is exhausting, everything takes so much longer. but thanks for the article.I only had a stroke, I did not turn into ani mbecile, I have a very rich interior and know theres more to come out of me.

    January 19, 2022 at 5:27 pm

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