Jump to the following topics:
- What is the shadow?
- How is the shadow
- Is the shadow evil?
have "golden" elements in our shadow.
- The ego
and the shadow balance one another.
- We project the shadow.
- We have a
- Shadow-work is
- We can
discover the elements of our shadow.
- We gain
many benefits from shadow-work.
- The techniques of
What is the shadow? We claim
certain characteristics which define "who we are"; all other possible
human characteristics are collectively known as our shadow. For
example, if we describe ourselves as friendly, cultured, and
generous, our shadow contains our potential for belligerence,
barbarism, and selfishness. The shadow can be described (admittedly
with some redundancy) as the characteristics which have not been
approved by ourselves or by other people, characteristics which we do
not like, characteristics which we do not acknowledge (and are thus
"repressed"), characteristics which do not fit our image of
ourselves, characteristics which are within the unconscious mind,
characteristics which we hide from other people, characteristics
which we would like to claim but don't dare to claim, and
characteristics which are simply unknown or unexpressed. In this
book, one definition of wholeness is an acknowledgment that each
person contains the potential for every conceivable thought and
feeling and action, including the extremes of behavior -- from the
kindness of Mother Teresa to the savagery of Adolph Hitler. (The
basis for this wholeness lies in spirit, which is an undifferentiated
substance which "splits" into the yinyang duality of the material
worlds.) The shadow can be explained in other terms:
- In Freudian psychology, the shadow is similar to the "id."
- In my model of "archetypal fields," the shadow is not a
structure of its own; instead, it is the elements within each
archetypal field which match the categories given above, e.g.,
"characteristics which we do not acknowledge or accept or like,"
etc. -- with each "characteristic" being represented by a thought
or image or energy tone in the field. There are also "shadows" in
the fields of all archetypes; for example, if we consider
ourselves to be a hard-working employee (with "Employee" being a
constellation within what I call the Servant archetype), then the
Employee constellation would also contain thoughts and images and
energy tones regarding laziness, from the various occasions when
we have entertained the option of being lazy but have rejected it.
How is the shadow created?
In childhood and throughout our life, we develop an ego which has a
collection of traits. But in order to think of ourselves as having a
particular trait, we usually would not also think of ourselves as
having the opposite trait; for example, we might view ourselves as a
compassionate person rather than as a vicious person. Thus, our
potential for viciousness becomes an element of our shadow.
Consciously or unconsciously, we adopt certain characteristics
because those are the ones for which are rewarded by our parents,
friends, peers, teachers, ministers, employers, ourselves, and other
people whose opinion matters to us. Some characteristics and their
opposites include gentle and violent, forgiving and vengeful, brave
and cowardly, rational and irrational, honest and deceitful, cheerful
and gloomy, intelligent and dull, hard-working and lazy, sexual and
chaste, and confident and insecure. The traits which we reject are
cast into the shadow, where they remain energized, autonomous, and
ready to be expressed. The shadow is different for each of us. As we
develop as unique individuals, our shadow becomes unique. For
example, if a someone is shy, the shadow contains boldness;
contrarily, a bold person has shyness in the shadow.
Is the shadow evil? There are
various reasons why the contents of the shadow might seem to be
- If our ego associates itself with the qualities of decent
behavior, the shadow naturally and guiltlessly becomes the
repository of our potential for greed, jealousy, violence, and all
other socially unacceptable potentials. The shadow is an innocent
storage facility -- like a computer which is not to blame for a
hateful document which is on its hard drive.
- When we rejected particular thoughts, images, energy tones,
and actions from the ego, we might have rejected them with a
negative context; for example, instead of saying simply, "I choose
not to be a mean person," we said, "I don't want to be a mean
person, because I hate mean people, and I'm afraid of mean
people." Thus, in our shadow, when we encounter our own capacity
for meanness (i.e., as we encounter what we might call the
"Meanness" archetype), we encounter the elements which we have
implanted there -- the energy tones (e.g., hatred, fear, etc.),
the nasty images which we have created to depict mean people, and
the damning thoughts toward mean people. We blame the shadow
itself for that negativity, instead of realizing that we are
merely greeting our own archetypal elements which have been put
into the shadow.
- Because we created the shadow through repression and
suppression, we come face-to-face with the destructive results of
those acts (as explained in the chapter regarding repression and
suppression). For example, if we repress a trait into the shadow,
we do not have the opportunity to explore it, and to practice
expressing it skillfully and productively; thus, our repressed
anger might come out as a childish tantrum.
- Some people fear the shadow's elements because they mistakenly
believe that the elements which they discover there must be acted
out and accepted into the self-image; however, a natural impulse
to punch an abusive person, for example, can be suppressed
(acknowledged but not enacted), and it does not make us a "bad
- The shadow is not, by definition, a container for our evil
qualities; it can also contain our "golden" qualities, as
explained in the next section.
"golden" elements in our shadow. This phenomenon is called the
"golden shadow" (as if it were a separate shadow) but it is really
just the positive traits within the shadow itself; we all have
valuable characteristics in our shadow. (Throughout this chapter,
most references to the shadow are referring to its "dark"
components.) Generally our "ego ideal" consists of constructive
characteristics, such as honesty and cordiality, because most of us
like to think of ourselves as honest and cordial. However, in some
people and in some sub-cultures, the contents of the ego and the
shadow are reversed from what we might expect. For example:
- Among criminals and gang members, the attributes which are
rewarded are villainy and violence (at least when displayed
against people outside of the gang); thus, honesty and cordiality
are in the shadow.
- Our confidence might be in the shadow because we consider
ourselves to be inadequate.
- Our leadership ability might be in the shadow, because we
don't want to assume responsibility for that ability.
- Our ambition might be in the shadow, if we accepted our
parents' example of sloth.
- Our creativity might be in the shadow, simply because we have
not had the opportunity or time to pursue our artistic interests.
- Clark Kent has Superman in his shadow.
- Our vanity might be in the shadow. But vanity has a golden
quality which can be developed; we can modify it into self-esteem,
because vanity is nothing more than our unsuccessful attempt at
achieving that self-esteem. Similarly, if we have repressed our
anger because we have judged it to be bad or useless, we might
find that it does have a purpose; its energy and drive can be
understood and harnessed to supply vigor and a legitimate
defensiveness toward our ego boundaries. All of the traits in the
shadow can be utilized; even our most-despicable qualities have a
purpose when we understand them, and we use them skillfully at the
and the shadow balance one another. "The brighter the sun, the darker
the shadow"; i.e., when we increase a particular quality in our ego,
we also increase its opposite. For example, when we try to be a
"good" person, we simultaneously intensify our tendency and energy
for malice and destructiveness, although we try to stifle this
opposite through judgmentalness and repression. The same dynamic
occurs when we attempt to increase any virtue, whether we want to be,
for example, humble or generous or loving or caring. Instead of
stressing one side of a duality or cycle (and rejecting the other),
we can simply perform the acts which are suggested by intuition
without labeling or judging those actions as "good" or "bad"; we
willingly accept whichever polarity is appropriate -- giving or
receiving, asserting or allowing. When we do that, we achieve
wholeness rather than polarity and repression. When we try to hard to
enhance the "good" side of life, we encounter various problems:
- We might experience "burnout" in the "helping professions"
such as teaching or nursing or counseling. The professionals who
survive are those who are able to detach themselves and recognize
the limits of their ability to assist other people; the
non-survivors try too hard to increase the good in people and in
society and then find themselves becoming cynical and aloof in an
unconscious effort to balance their own "bright" idealizm.
- Some of the most murderous leaders have been the most
"idealiztic." Vladimir Lenin, Adolph Hitler, Mao Tse Tung, Pol
Pot, and others slaughtered millions of their own people who
didn't fit into the utopian plans. Those people were designated as
the shadow in the society.
We project the shadow. All
projections come from the shadow. Shadow projection is an unconscious
act which causes us to see our own shadow parts as though they belong
to other people; as a result, we can deny those elements within
ourselves in order to preserve a particular self-image -- a
self-image which then becomes untrue (and usually self-righteous).
The people upon whom we project probably do have the characteristic
which we are projecting onto them, but the projection intensifies our
perception of it, and we view it with a judgmentalness and irritation
which exceed any natural reaction to the imposition of that person on
our lives; for example, we despise someone's innocently wild behavior
because we are repressing our own extraversion. (The intensity of our
reaction is equal to the intensity of our repression of those
qualities within ourselves.) Shadow projection can appear in various
- Family projections. These occur within the family.
- One member might receive the shadow projections of the
others; this person thus becomes "the black sheep of the
- Children receive the shadow projections of their parents;
that can be one reason why a minister's kids tend to be
- The family can projects its "collective shadow" outward
onto other families or groups. (The collective shadow is
Projection onto our partner. Couples project their shadow
qualities onto one another. In short-term relationships, we might
abandon the person when those projected qualities become
intolerable to us, but in a long-term relationship, we have more
of a commitment to come to terms with this person and with the
characteristics which we have projected.
Projection onto "bad guys." These are the people we "love to
hate" -- in soap operas, horror stories, sports, and in the
evening news with its criminals and disliked politicians. For
example, when we watch a football game, we might project our
aggression and even sadism; we could project our heroic qualities
upon the winning team, and our fear of failure upon the losing
team. If a person with a weak ego is subjected to the force of
someone else's shadow projection, the projection can overpower
that weak ego, causing the person to accept the image of that
projection in the place of his or her own ego; one author said
that this phenomenon is a reason why some criminals (and other
outcasts) have a difficulty in breaking free from their role as
the carriers of society's shadow.
Projections onto groups. An individual might project hated
qualities onto people of other races, other countries, other
religions, other age groups, other sexual orientations, the other
gender, and so on; thus we have racism, nationalism, ageism,
Scapegoating. We project our shadow qualities onto another
person, and then we symbolically "destroy" the person (as if to
destroy the qualities themselves) through social ostracism and
through dehumanization. In Biblical times, scapegoating was done
with a real goat; the people would imagine that they were casting
their unwanted qualities into the animal, and then they would kill
the animal or send it into the desert to die.
Paranoia. One cause for this condition might be the projection
of aggression which is in our shadow. Oddly, the people onto whom
we project these fears generally do not have a "hook" (i.e., an
obvious trait of aggression which our projection would exaggerate
in our perception of the people). Thus, we might experience
paranoia toward strangers at random, or toward non-existent
entities such as "Martians."
We have a
"collective shadow." An individual has a personal shadow; a group has
a collective shadow of the traits which it rejects. A "group" can be
a family, a nation, an ethnic group, a religion, a city, a culture or
sub-culture, a corporation, or any other fellowship of like-minded
people. We can see various manifestations of the collective shadow:
- Religions create collective shadows which they project onto
other religions and onto "the devil."
- Middle-class people might project shadow qualities upon the
extremes of both the homeless (whom they might view as
irresponsible) and the rich (whom they might view as greedy).
- The Victorian culture put sexuality into its collective
shadow. However, as society changes, its shadow changes; thus,
much of that sexuality has been brought out of the shadow, while
prudery is now more likely to be in the shadow. Similarly, the
conservative U.S. culture of the 1950s put its liberalism into the
shadow -- until the 1960s, when liberalism was brought out of the
shadow, to reveal its inevitible blend of destructive and "golden"
- Mob psychology is based in a collective shadow which might
contain elements such as violence and intolerance. After the mob
has disbanded, and the individuals have disengaged from that group
consciousness, many of them will have a much milder (or even
contrary) attitude toward the issue which the mob supported.
- A nation has a collective shadow. One nation might have a
legitimate complaint against another, but we can detect shadow
projection when the other nation is demonized. Politicians
occasionally use the collective shadow to stir up emotions (and
support); it is our unwillingness to confront our own personal
shadows that allows politicians to manipulate us in this way to
create intolerance and wars. For example:
- Former United States President Ronald Reagan called the
former Soviet Union "the Evil Empire."
- Another former U.S. President, Richard Nixon, said, "It may
seem melodramatic to say that the United States and Russia
represent Good and Evil. But if we think of it that way, it
helps to clarify our perspective on the world struggle."
- Iranian leaders have called the United States "the Great
- Hitler's Germany created a shadow in its attempt to glorify
the Aryans (and to dismiss its own flaws through projection);
the shadow projection led to the deaths of millions of people.
challenging. Generally, we avoid the unpleasantness of the shadow by
denying it entirely. But when we do begin to look at the elements of
the shadow -- the parts we have denied or disliked -- our reaction
might be shock, disbelief, guilt, shame, depression, humiliation,
fear, and a sense that we have lost our innocence (as indeed we
have). These effects might be more upsetting if we have invested
deeply in a self-image of purely positive qualities, and if we have
been further alienating ourselves from our shadow by indulging the
judgmentalness which we see sometimes in social reformers and
self-righteous religionists. If we decide to pursue self-awareness
through an understanding of the shadow, we require some personal
- Courage, to look at the elements which might destroy our
- Humility, to put aside any idea that we are not the pious
person which we might have imagined ourselves to be.
- Self-acceptance, to look at our ugly qualities without
rejecting them back into the shadow again, or trying to disguise
them into something more appealing. In our shadow, we might see
the most repelling facets of human nature. We can meet each of
those facets with love and forgiveness and honesty and a sense of
curiosity and exploration. Jesus' advice, "love your enemies," is
appropriate for both our shadow elements and for the projections
of those elements onto our human enemies; this "love" can be
simply a desire to come to terms with an element whose viewpoint
we assume to have some validity in the overall scheme even if it
is contrary to our current preferences.
- Knowledge, to understand that our shadow qualities are simply
our undeveloped resources, rather than something evil.
- Patience, to rebuild a new sense of who we are. This process
must be gradual so that we are not overwhelmed and disoriented by
the revelations of the shadow.
- A sense of humor, as our lovely (but phony) self-image is
repeatedly poked by the grungy court jesters of our dark side.
- Respect for our previous defenses -- the repeated denials of
our shadow -- which have given us time to build our ego, so that
we are now strong enough to examine the shadow without being
overpowered by its contrary force.
- A strong ego and self-esteem, to claim the positive value in
all of our traits so that we will not be misled by a notion that
our "evil" traits make us an evil person. We must keep the proper
perspective on the shadow. As we develop our ego, and learn the
correct behaviors in society, the shadow is the essential
repository of our potential for uncivilized action. This is the
correct positioning of the ego -- dominating and regulating the
shadow. However, as we discover our shadow, we might make the
mistake of thinking that these repressed elements are who we
really are, because of their vitality and honesty. Then,
naturally, we might give license to the shadow, freely indulging
our impulses, and redefining our self-concept with those shadow
elements (perhaps as a social misfit or a criminal). In doing so,
we would not actually be expressing our shadow; we would simply be
redefining the shadow with new contents -- the aspects of us which
are cultured. This situation does not lead toward wholeness, and
certainly not toward functionality in society.
discover the elements of our shadow. As we explore the shadow, we are
also learning about the contents of our archetypal fields; the
"shadow" is merely the contents which we have rejected or ignored. We
can discover these shadow-elements by noting the following
- Our opposites. One way to discern our shadow -- at least
intellectually -- is to make a list of the psychological
characteristics which we like in ourselves: the list of adjectives
might include compassionate, forgiving, calm, easy-going,
considerate, and loving. Our shadow elements are, by definition,
the opposite of those traits.
- Our excessive reactions to other people. We can detect
projections of the shadow when we become judgmental or
hateful toward another person on the basis of a trait which we
perceive there. For example, if we are unduly irritated by
someone's flirtatiousness -- "She's just a tease" -- we have
probably pushed our own flirtatiousness into our shadow, and it
has been projected onto that person. Whatever we despise in other
people is what we despise in ourselves. We might notice our shadow
reacting and resonating to situations in daily life, in gossip,
movies, TV programs, or novels. Our golden shadow is
revealed in people whom we idolize.
- Humor. In slapstick comedy -- depending upon whether we are
identifying with the "slapper" or the "slappee" -- we are
projecting our repressed sadism or our repressed fear of
embarrassment and injury.
- "Freudian slips." In these "slips of the tongue," we
inadvertently say what we really feel or think. For example, we
might say, "I hope you can't be at my party" when we consciously
intended to say, "I hope you can be at my party." A shadow element
-- our honest but unacceptable dislike of the person -- expressed
itself in the first statement.
- Slips of behavior. Similar to our verbal "Freudian slips,"
slips of behavior occur when we unconsciously enact a shadow
quality. For example, we "accidentally" spill our beverage onto
the carpet in the home of someone we deplore, or we compulsively
do "something we would never do" (and we are appalled by our
- "Misunderstood" behaviors. Sometimes we believe that we are
expressing a particular trait, but people perceive a different
trait; for example, we think that we are acting friendly toward a
person whom we secretly loathe, but later, our friends comment on
our rudeness toward the person. Our shadow was apparent to our
- Dreams. The shadow is always symbolized by a character of our
same gender and our opposite traits. In my dreams, one of my
recurring shadow characters is an extraverted "party animal," in
contrast to the shyness in my wakeful-world personality.
- Fantasies. The shadow often expresses itself in fantasies,
such as those of sex, power, and violence.
- Our drunken behavior. One effect of alcohol is its release of
the shadow; that is why many intoxicated people behave in a manner
which is contrary to the behavior which they exhibit when sober.
- Our parents. Children often carry the shadow of their parents,
so we can also say that the parents carry the shadow of the
children. If we notice that we have characteristics which are the
oppose of those of our parents, we can identify those elements of
their ego as being the elements of our shadow.
We gain many
benefits from shadow-work.
- We might develop some of these traits as we discover our "dark
We can use the energy of the shadow elements. When we tap our
unused resources in the shadow, we achieve vitality and
self-renewal. Instead of using our energy to fight their energy,
we permit the shadow elements to express themselves in
constructive (or at least harmless) ways.
We achieve more control over our lives. We are not
compulsively driven by repressed elements, nor are we subjected to
disastrous eruptions when they would occasionally burst out of
repression. In our interpersonal relationships, we gain control
because we are responding to our accurate perception of the person
instead of reacting to our shadow projections.
We gain the benefits which are achieved by people who have a
well-developed ego and persona. We have properly identified and
sorted our traits into ego and shadow, and we have selected
particular traits with which to create our persona.
We broaden the scope of our life. The shadow contains our
unlived dreams, and our potential for the full range of human
individuality and creativity. We can find joy in the formerly
repressed elements, which might include our sexuality, our
assertiveness, our spirituality, etc.
We lose our naivete. For example, if we see only our honesty,
and we deny our capacity for lying, we might tend to deny the
capacity in other people; our false innocence makes us vulnerable
to their lies. But if we know our shadow, it becomes our teacher
instead of our enemy, so we can recognize other people's devious
We feel more peaceful toward other people.
- Self-awareness. We will learn more about the other half of
- Earthiness and warmth. We will not be afraid of our common
humanity and our human nature.
- A sense of morality which is based on an acknowledgment of
our capacity for evil rather than on judgmentalness and a false
sense of saintliness.
- An understanding of people, after we have retracted our
- A diminishment of guilt and shame, as we recognize that the
"evil" shadow elements are merely undeveloped constructive
- Emotional calm, when we stop combating our own nature and
that of others.
- We are more tolerant toward people's behavior (as long as
it does not harm us), knowing that we have the potential for
the same acts.
- We recognize our shadow projections, so we do not become
upset at the people who innocently catch our occasional
projections and then reflect back our own unsavory traits.
- We sense a connection to the rest of the human community as
we recognize the interesting commonalities and differences in
the elements which we have each selected for our ego and
The techniques of
shadow-work. When we start to identify the contents of our shadow,
the next step is to assume responsibility for them, to achieve a
state in which we are neither repressing them nor giving them free
license. The ego must stay intact, dominant, and strong while we
allow the shadow some form of expression and ventilation; we don't
switch the ego's contents for those of the shadow, nor do we degrade
our ego in a dull compromise with the shadow. (Because of the
volatility of the shadow, we might need to do our shadow-work under
the guidance of a therapist.) In shadow-work, our goals are (1) to
harmlessly vent some of the tension of these repressed elements, and
(2) to increase our understanding of our whole self, and (3) to
discern any usable ("golden") qualities within even the most
despicable elements. We can use many techniques for shadow-work:
- Retracting our projections of the shadow. These methods are
described in the chapter on projections. One step in withdrawing
projections is simply to admit that whatever we see in other
people is also within us as a potential or as a past action: For
- Instead of being bitterly critical while (for example)
watching a news report about a drunk driver, we might look into
our own past to see whether we have been similarly
irresponsible (in drunk driving or some other matter).
- We can use "name substitution" when we become inordinately
upset with someone. For example, if we become excessively angry
at someone who is driving too fast, we say, "He drives too
fast." But then we can experiment with various substitutions
that use the word "I": "I drive too fast" or "I would like to
drive too fast" or "I am afraid to drive too fast" or "I hate
myself when I drive too fast." Perhaps the shadow-projection
isn't triggered by the speeding itself, but instead by what it
represents; if so, we can say, "I want to take risks" (like the
risks that the speeding driver is taking) or "I want to be
irresponsible" or "I want to have more excitement."
Separating our personal shadow from the collective shadow. We
develop this discernment through individuation and self-knowledge
-- knowing which feelings and attitudes are ours, and which ones
have been adopted from outside of us (from parents, peers,
teachers, preachers, our culture and subculture, society in
general, etc.). In any group, we can decide which items we wish to
have in our personal shadow; another option is join a different
group whose ego and shadow is more compatible with ours.
Rituals. Many rituals express shadow elements such as
destructiveness (through fire, for example) and our fear of death
(followed by symbolic rebirth). We can create rituals in which we
burn, bury, or sacrifice a symbolic object. These destructive
rituals might help us to come to terms with the elements and to
find the golden qualities within them. We can also use
constructive rituals to indulge the shadow; Marie
Antoinette balanced her cultured life by milking cows.
Play. In games and sports and other forms of play, we can
assert many passions which we usually hide: our egotism ("My team
is the best"), aggression ("Sack the quarterback!"), greed ("I
want a monopoly on Boardwalk and Park Place"), etc.
Role-playing. In our daily life, we can use the as-if
principle to explore a characteristic which is contrary to our
self-image (and is thus in our shadow). In circumstances where we
will cause no harm (or simply in our imagination or in a
structured visualization exercise), we can pretend to be a bully,
or a Don Juan, or a selfish brat, or a loud-mouthed braggart, or
an agnostic, or another type of person whom we claim not to be.
This play-acting can be done with feeling and emotion and
flamboyance, as we express the vigor of those potential traits
within ourselves. The experience is likely to be energizing and
surprising; we might enjoy some of the traits so much that we will
decide to move them from our shadow into our ego. However, there
are possible hazards in this role-playing: we might feel guilty
(because we are enacting a formerly prohibited behavior), or
disoriented (because we are playing a role which is contrary to
that of our ego), or overstimulated (because we are releasing the
charged elements of the shadow). If these problems occur, lessen
or stop the exercise.
Humor. As explained previously, humor allows us to express our
shadow elements. Sarcasm is particularly effective, but it can be
hurtful if used inappropriately.
Art. We can express the shadow through painting, sculpture,
music, etc. The shadow might want to express its anger by
splashing black paint onto a canvas. The shadow of a perfectionist
might want to play a piano in a sloppy, discordant manner. With a
pencil or pen, we can portray the elements of our shadow -- or
portray the elements of the ego from the shadow's point of view.
We can write a story from the perspective of a shadow element --
indulging it, glorifying it, and seeing the world through its
eyes; in this story, the shadow element might be personified as a
miser or a murderer.
Increasing our tolerance for the tension. The shadow always
contains tension because of the innate vitality of its contents.
By accepting this inevitable tension (but also increasing our
skill in releasing that tension through shadow-work), we
strengthen the ego, and we assure that the shadow will not
"pollute" the ego's dominance and expressions with its untimely