Carl Jung and The Power of the Shadow
The Way To Becoming Your True Self
“Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
“The Philosophical Tree” (1945). In CW 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335
There exists a side to ourselves that we are, unknowingly or knowingly, in a constant struggle against. We refuse to acknowledge it; it exists in the underworld, never to be seen. This is referred to as the shadow and it includes the aspects of our character that have been deemed inappropriate by those outside.
Our natural energy, spontaneity, vitality and sexuality are cast behind our consciousness and into the shadow, hiding from the sight of those who might lay scorn upon us. This begins during the childhood and will continue throughout life if it is never confronted. Most never dare to face their shadow and as a consequence, they become host to a world of internal conflict.
The problem here is that, after years of being told how to be, people grow to identify themselves with their appointed mask and see themselves only as good, respectable and clean — the way the world wants them to be.
“Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man 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.”
“Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131
The present wisdom in the West teaches that people are already sinners as soon as they are born. The story of the original sin has held strong for many centuries. Life, then, is a tremendous struggle to prove to other people that we are a good person rather than a criminal.
We hide our negative characteristics away from others and, eventually, from ourselves. Instead, what we are pressed to become is a facade. A facade avoids the truth, it pretends and embezzles and points to stars and lights that do not exist. However, it is the adherence to the truth that makes strong individuals.
The truth is always uncomfortable and challenging. Those who recognise themselves with their persona the most are usually those who are the weakest because they move with constant fear of stepping on someone’s toes. They wrongfully confuse harmlessness with morality and will always repress their genius for acceptance of others. Truly, there exists a brilliance within each of us, but it takes great courage to accept that the shadow enables this unique wisdom. Without the dark, the dirt and the filth, there is no light, health or life.
“We know that the wildest and most moving dramas are played not in the theatre but in the hearts of ordinary men and women who pass by without exciting attention, and who betray to the world nothing of the conflicts that rage within them except possibly by a nervous breakdown. What is so difficult for the layman to grasp is the fact that in most cases the patients themselves have no suspicion whatever of the internecine war raging in their unconscious. If we remember that there are many people who understand nothing at all about themselves, we shall be less surprised at the realization that there are also people who are utterly unaware of their actual conflicts.”
“New Paths in Psychology” (1912). In CW 7: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. P.425
Individuals who attach themselves to their persona and the ideal of harmlessness are incredibly dangerous because it means that they are unable to stand firm and will instead follow whatever follies the crowd pursues. It is the persona, the obedient and submissive personality, that is the most significant and necessary weapon for all totalitarian regimes.
Holding dear to this facade gradually creates deep feelings of resentment and pain, as you will force yourself to suppress the thoughts and emotions that the unconscious wanted to express. Instead, your entire world will depress into just a small fraction of what it could be. For expression is the opposite of depression, and the more you express your true nature, the more you invite that which recognises your intelligence.
Pretending innocence from your dark nature is violence against yourself. It is harmful to repress resentment and anger into the unconscious. The more one represses their true nature, the darker and heavier the shadow becomes.
Carl Jung taught that when we are not conscious of our shadow, it has the power to direct our lives towards a state of conflict. It may appear on the outside that one is well made and ordered, but if their unconscious is divided, they will unavoidably attract pain in their outer world.
We can become a victim of shadow possession if we do not integrate and recognise the shadow aspects of ourselves.
It must be understood that man is not one, but two, light and dark, and that each person must become whole or balanced within. This is how the soul creates substance.
The green grass grows from the dirt and the waterfall flows over the rock. Everything in nature depends on the balance of two halves to create a whole.If the ground is not looked after and weeds are allowed to grow, then the flowers and the plants will suffer.
Equally, it is essential for a director to introduce a villain during the play or else the other characters have nothing to participate with and the audience would not recognise the true plot.
Alan Watts encouraged people to consider the possibility that they are entirely evil. Such a practice allows people to think deeply about the dark aspects of themselves and reflect on the idea that their unconscious might be driving some of their actions. People will come to understand that they are not entirely virtuous after all, but will instead realise that they are capable of great acts of selfishness and destruction.
Carl Jung asked people to notice when they have feelings that belong to the shadow aspect of themselves. Resentment, depression or jealously, these emotions are opportunities to reach into the shadow and integrate the darkness with the lighter sides of yourself. Jung taught his clients to question the reason why they were experiencing these feelings and how they could integrate them into everyday life
The shadow will tell you which emotions you are repressing and why. Expression is essential when developing strength and individuality; the only alternative is to depress and hold onto that which is already causing pain.
A key indicator of the shadow is fear. You know when you are approaching the shadow when you are met with fear. Joseph Campbell talks of eating the shadow, meaning to absorb and filter the shadow back into ourselves. You do not ignore the fear or pretend it does not exist, but instead integrate it back into your character and see through the darkness.
This is the key idea behind Campbell’s idea of the Hero’s Journey — that is, to cross a threshold, to walk towards the unfamiliar. On the other side of the dark forest is a person who has witnessed their shadow, someone who now wields the power of their dark side. This idea has been shown across many mythologies, particularly the stories of the slaying of dragons and other creatures. This guardian represents the shadow within rather than a monster on the outside.
Carl Jung’s notion of a moral person is much different to the conventional definition. For Jung, a moral person is someone who is whole, meaning they have integrated both the light and shadow into their lives.
The moral person should be able to access their shadow whenever possible and use it even if it would cause harm. This is a rather disturbing idea. But, Jung follows by explaining that the person who can wield his shadow is never likely to use it for it acts as a powerful deterrent.
The shadow is the doorway to knowing the Self. After all, enlightenment is, according to Jung, a frightening, crushing process that forces one to stare at the cold truth, even if that truth is the devil.
“A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbour.”
“The Philosophical Tree” (1945). In CW 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335
Thank you for reading.
Harry J. Stead