One of the main dangers of individuation is inflation. Inflation is a technical term (see definition here) that defines the state of an ego that is identified with something beyond itself. An inflated ego gains a sense of exaggerated self-importance and an exacerbated judgmental attitude over others. Grandiosity, narcissism, autoeroticism, elitism are all too typical of inflation. One feels that one has reached new heights and thus should be praised and admired for it whereas, paradoxically, we have regressed into a deeper unconsciousness. In the case of an archetypal identification with the self, one might even believe that we are Christ reincarnated.
Despite all its negative aspects, inflation is part of the psychic life and should not be condemned as such. However, we need strategies to deflate an inflation before its hubris sends us into a pitfall.
The first goal is to be able to recognize when inflation happens. For some people, it’s a change of intonation in the voice. For others, it could be a change in body posture. I personally feel that I am getting inflated when something is getting to my head and expanding it like a balloon. When this happens, I do my best to let the pressure dissipate downwards, usually towards the heart. This is not an easy task. I remember days where I would feel inflation lurking in constantly, maybe 100 times a day, and I had to constantly push it back. Even now, I still have to do it around ten times each day.
My main strategy to avoid inflation is based on “show, don’t tell,” which I would describe as “act first, discuss later.” Talking about things, overthinking scenarios or fantasizing have always been a primary source of inflation for me. Worse, they are all ways for me to avoid the actual doing of things. To prevent this, I’ve resigned myself to not talk about my plans before I’ve put some work into them, letting my actions speak for me.
The point is not to avoid criticism or to be a perfectionist, rather it is to work on an idea to a point where I can actually present a draft, a prototype, maybe an actionable plan to others. In my experience, grounding a discussion on something that already “half-exists” favors positive critical interaction. It shows commitment, that I have done my research to the best of my ability and that I am looking for real feedback to move forward.
In fact, seeing how people react to “what I’ve done this far” is an essential part of the process. If people react negatively to something in which I’ve poured a lot of effort, planning, research, or getting things together is a sign that I have made a serious mistake somewhere and I need to reconsider what I have been doing. For instance, when I released my first album, I could hear a deafening silence around it. People simply did not care about what I’ve done. This is the kind of non-verbal feedback that is essential to understand.
One thing that needs to be accounted for is that sometimes we choose the wrong topic in the first place. The lack of humility and typical bravado of inflation, described by The Dunning–Kruger effect among others, will cause a lot of problems if left unchecked. The way I like to phrase my solution to this is “do what is below you”. To avoid inflation, one should pick the unflattering things that need to be done and for which one might not receive any congratulatory acknowledgment. The things that need to be done are obvious, in fact so obvious that people around you will react dumbfounded when you do them as if to communicate that they should have been done a long time ago. This is the kind of signal that tells me that I am engaged with the right thing. It has to be said: the proper task is hard work, completely unglamorous and often very lonely.
Finally, dreams are always a way to detect inflation. Robert Johnson’s Dreamwork Seminar goes through a few dreams with the theme of inflation.
To learn more about inflation, see the key text from Jung “The Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious” in Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (Collected Work 7) and Edward Edinger’s “The Inflated Ego” in Ego and Archetype.