The Grand Myth of Transformation

transfəˈmeɪʃ(ə)n, noun, a marked change in form, nature, or appearance.

There is a major paradox in the personal growth movement. A critical fault line running down its centre. We are sold and often tempted by promises of transformation, but, critically, what we most want is to be authentic.

Do you want to transform?

If you do, it is worth thinking about what you trying to change.

Your nature?

Who you are?

How you live in this world?

Do you want to be better?

Do you desire to change somehow to fit in or succeed?

To be in control?

To transcend yourself?

To somehow move away from who you are?

What we are sold and promised by personal growth programmes, workshops and gurus is transformation. Not just any transformation mind you, but transformation into a more authentic version of ourselves. This is paradoxical. To be authentic, I.e. to be yourself, has as a necessary condition, not being something other than yourself.

Consider, what your transformation would look like? What exactly is the goal here? A more authentic or better version of yourself? This is a contradiction in terms. If you desire to be different, how can you embrace being more authentic? Surely if you are chasing transformation, you are unhappy with yourself, somehow dissatisfied with who you are. So, becoming more of who you are is not going to fix this problem, maybe it will even exaggerate it. And herein lies the problem.

There is a great line from Alvey Kulina,[1] in the cable series, Kingdom,[2] that expresses this idea rather well. Alvey is a retired MMA fighter who trains up and coming fighters and mentors them through the minefield of MMA and their challenging lives. Alvey himself, as you might imagine, is an imperfect soul. A flawed anti-hero, wrestling with his own demons. An interesting feature of the narrative technique is that we frequently get to witness Alvey in his analytical session with his psychoanalyst, [3] reflecting on the vicissitudes of life and the curved contours of his psychology. It is in this setting at the start of one of the episodes in season two[4], that Alvey says,

Half of me’s a criminal, and the other half… Just hasn’t gotten caught. I’m tired. I’m out of blood. I’m gonna fuck this up. That’s who I am. I could stop drinking, yeah. Confront myself, my demons. But at some point, me and everybody else has to realize I can’t get a fucking brain transplant. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I led some people to believe that I was gonna change. I’m not. I can’t. I won’t.

Whilst, admittedly, there is something tragic in this admission by Alvey, simultaneously, it also expresses something undeniably true. The greatest impediment to psychological health, “authenticity”, and ultimately individuation is self-deceit. The grand myth of the personal growth movement and the transformation imperative is that it is going to fix you, to change you, to transform you. Newsflash – it isn’t!

The eureka moment in the process of becoming conscious, is when we finally let go of the fiction that has both sustained and trapped us these many years of our adult lives.[5] This is a fiction most of us are intimately acquainted with. The specifics vary, but the structure is remarkably consistent, in Jungian terms, archetypal. An expression of perennial dissatisfaction. It goes something like this.

One day I will change (insert variable characteristic here).

To this idea, let me quote Saleem Farah[6], “The possible starts today, the impossible tomorrow.”

Transformation requires a movement away from yourself, to become more acceptable, adapted and reasonable you must fit into society and follow its rules. It is often easier to follow someone else or an institutions’ rules.[7] You don’t have to reflect on what is right or wrong for you. You don’t have to make decisions that have some impact on who you are. It is like living with your parents for your whole life. No pressure as to how you are going to eat or live, just follow the rules of the house and you are safe, secure, looked after.

So maybe this is how you feel and that is okay. The journey towards authenticity is not for everyone.

Let’s look at what it would mean to be authentic.

What we know from psychoanalysis is that the ego identity is a defence constructed in reaction to trauma, shame, vulnerability and inadequacy. It is a provisional personality, carefully constructed to hide and compensate for that about yourself you deem most shameful or vulnerable. We show the world the face we think it wants to see or that we have to in order to survive and thrive.

As inauthentic and dishonest as this may be, we usually convince ourselves of the sincerity of the mask we don, in order to make our way in the world.  Mostly we can convince ourselves, at least for extended periods of time (sometimes decades) that this is who we really are. The unconscious though is typically not invested in this fiction, it retains an image of who you were before you convinced everyone how nice and polite and reasonable and functional and adapted you are. This deeper truth that resides in your unconscious or soul, if you will, visits you in dreams and fantasies initially. Later, if resolutely ignored, it returns as the symptom.[8] This is the neurosis, the self-sabotaging behaviour, the inability to relate meaningfully, the incapacity to experience joy or meaning, chronic melancholy, depression and a host of other symptoms, including physical ailments and disease.

Although this provisional personality can be and often is highly functional for a time, time, in the final analysis, is against it. There usually comes a point, sooner or later, when the pretence is up. One can only convince oneself and others for so long, before the fiction runs out of steam, or in psychological terms, libido. Trying to be that which you are not is a movement away from your essential self. At a certain point in this act, we find ourselves alienated, lost and sad. We don’t know who we are and this causes us anxiety and depression. Many people are afraid to look inwards and to learn to know and ultimately love themselves. If your whole life you have been chastised for being different, or have been shamed for your behaviour, the idea of self-appreciation is far-fetched and almost impossible to imagine.

Behind this provisional personality is the authentic self. Even the word, “authentic” has become, unfortunately, a cliché. To speak plainly,[9] an honest self. In Jungian psychology, we speak of becoming conscious or, more specifically, of making conscious what was previously unconscious. Becoming conscious, simply means becoming honest. It really is no more complex than that. The challenge that psychoanalysis presents us with is that honesty, is itself, far more changeling than it sounds. The idea of an unconscious self, introduces deception into our psychology. A part of ourselves, of our identity, beliefs, values and desires is hidden from us. We are given to self-deception; and as night follows day the deception of others.[10] Psychoanalysis, and more specifically in this context, Jungian psychology, offers a way out of this deceptive fiction.

You have a temper, you get irritated, you want things perhaps you shouldn’t. These characteristics and desires are qualities that possibly you don’t like in yourself, that you judge as faults in need of remedy. They are, nevertheless, authentic, what you feel, believe and experience, if you are honest with yourself.  You feel emotions that confuse you. You scare yourself sometimes with your secret thoughts. You are ashamed and embarrassed about who you are. Yet these are the things that separate you from others, make you who you are, make you unique. Everything about you that differs from the norm is authentic. It is in this difference that you as an individual exist, outside of any faceless statistical aggregate. Authenticity is about being honest with yourself about who you are, where you are going, what drives you, what you do not like, what enchants you, what you love. It is your unique perspective. It is your psychic fingerprint.

In the Jungian system, the movement towards your soul, your essential self, is an inward spiral. This does facilitate an inner evolution, on occasion even revolution, but, critically, not into something other than who you are and always were. Jung said, it is better to be whole than to be perfect, and that is the crux of Jungian work. To move inwards, change the way we relate to ourselves, develop compassion and empathy for ourselves and recognise our humanity. To learn to understand yourself and appreciate your unique individuality is the objective of the Jungian system. This movement towards a life that most authentically, appropriately and honestly symbolises your soul in the world cultivating an attitude of love and understanding towards yourself and a corresponding shift in your attitude towards others, is the Jungian Opus and the focus of our work at The Centre for Applied Jungian Studies.

Our Twelve Steps to Individuation Programme is now open for booking in Johannesburg. This is a journey of self exploration towards greater self-knowledge, self-acceptance and ultimately authenticity.

Until we speak again,

Anja and Stephen


[1] Charismatically acted by Frank Grillo

[2] Kingdom (previously titled Navy St.) is an American drama television series created by Byron Balasco. The series premiered on October 8, 2014 on the Audience Network.[1] It stars Frank Grillo, Kiele Sanchez, Matt Lauria, Jonathan Tucker, Nick Jonas and Joanna Going. –

[3] Possibly borrowed from The Sopranos.

[4] Season 2, episode 8, ‘Smoker’.

[5] “Fiction has the structure of a truth: More-than-material subjectivity isn’t a false, fictional epiphenomenon since it literally (re)structures the very being of the individual (as Lacan puts it subsequently in this 1946 text, there is a “law of our becoming” commanding one to “Become such as you are” – that is to say, false virtual identifications become true actual identities through fiction remaking true being in its own image). Lacan goes on to maintain that an intimate rapport conjoins madness and freedom: Both madness and freedom are possibilities for a human being due to “the permanent virtuality of a gap opened up in his essence.” Adrian Johnston, ‘The Symptom’, online journal for,

[6] Saleem Farah (1932 – 2002)

[7] In Freudian terms, the Superego.

[8] The return of the repressed. (Freud)

[9] As Daniel Plainview would put it.

[10] This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.