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The Shadow

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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:

  1. In Freudian psychology, the shadow is similar to the "id."
  2. 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 evil:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 person."
  5. 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.

We have "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:

  1. Among criminals and gang members, the attributes which are rewarded are villainy and violence (at least when displaid against people outside of the gang); thus, honesty and cordiality are in the shadow.
  2. Our confidence might be in the shadow because we consider ourselves to be inadequate.
  3. Our leadership ability might be in the shadow, because we don't want to assume responsibility for that ability.
  4. Our ambition might be in the shadow, if we accepted our parents' example of sloth.
  5. Our creativity might be in the shadow, simply because we have not had the opportunity or time to pursue our artistic interests.
  6. Clark Kent has Superman in his shadow.
  7. 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 right time.

The ego 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 extroversion. (The intensity of our reaction is equal to the intensity of our repression of those qualities within ourselves.) Shadow projection can appear in various ways:  

  1. 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 family."
    • Children receive the shadow projections of their parents; that can be one reason why a minister's kids tend to be hell-raisers.
    • The family can projects its "collective shadow" outward onto other families or groups. (The collective shadow is explained later.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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, sexism, etc.
  5. 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.
  6. 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:

  1. Religions create collective shadows which they project onto other religions and onto "the devil."
  2. 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).
  3. 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" qualities.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 Satan."
    • 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.

Shadow-work is 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 qualities:

  1. Courage, to look at the elements which might destroy our life-long self-concepts.
  2. Humility, to put aside any idea that we are not the pious person which we might have imagined ourselves to be.
  3. 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.
  4. Knowledge, to understand that our shadow qualities are simply our undeveloped resources, rather than something evil.
  5. 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.
  6. A sense of humor, as our lovely (but phony) self-image is repeatedly poked by the grungy court jesters of our dark side.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

We can 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 occurrences:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. "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.
  5. 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 action).
  6. "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 friends.
  7. 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 extroverted "party animal," in contrast to the shyness in my wakeful-world personality.
  8. Fantasies. The shadow often expresses itself in fantasies, such as those of sex, power, and violence.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.  

  1. We might develop some of these traits as we discover our "dark side":
    • Self-awareness. We will learn more about the other half of ourselves.
    • 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 distorting projections.
    • A diminishment of guilt and shame, as we recognize that the "evil" shadow elements are merely undeveloped constructive qualities.
    • Emotional calm, when we stop combating our own nature and that of others.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 activities.
  7. We feel more peaceful toward other people.  
    • 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 shadow.

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:

  1. 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 example:
    • 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."
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Humor. As explained previously, humor allows us to express our shadow elements. Sarcasm is particularly effective, but it can be hurtful if used inappropriately.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 eruptions.


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