Monday, November 7, 2011


So many problems in life seem to be caused by our inability to face some truth about ourselves - a deeply rooted unwillingness to acknowledge those parts of ourselves we've tried (but failed) to renounce. Often, these are things we learned in early childhood were unacceptable to the people around us (parents, caretakers): anger and aggression, rebellion, intense emotion or crying, dependency (or independence)....

However, just renouncing them doesn't make these parts of ourselves really go away. Instead, they just go underground - into the unconscious mind, where we are unaware of their continued presence...and thus shocked when they jump out from time to time, and catch us by surprise. Jung called these parts of the self "Shadow." 

Jung writes: "Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man (sic) is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a Shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected and is liable to burst forth suddenly in a moment of unawareness. At all events, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions."

If we refuse to acknowledge the Shadow parts of ourselves, instead of going away, these parts tend to leak out at inopportune moments. We find ourselves acting them out (for example, by lashing out at, belittling, or betraying a loved one), or we project them, seeing the renounced negative trait in those around us, but not ourselves.

Jung wasn't the first to recognize the Shadow; people have known this fact of human nature for millennia. Even Paul writes in Romans (7:18-19): "I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing." However, Jung made this truth more accessible...along with another truth: that by embracing and reintegrating our Shadow parts, they become sources of creative power and energy, rather than liabilities.

Now, diving into the darkness to reclaim the Shadow is not an activity to be undertaken lightly, or alone. It takes courage to face our Shadows, and a safe environment. There are therapists specialize in facilitating this process. It is too threatening for some people, and at some times or places - after all, it requires us to relinquish a fiercely held view of ourselves. On the other hand, for others the cost is too high to continue to deny the Shadow and allow it to wreak havoc on its own terms. 

Have you encountered your own Shadow? Have you seen the Shadow in a client (perhaps when it's projected onto you)? Or does this all sound too bizarre to be considered?

If you dare:

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