How We Project Our Shadow Self (The Dangers Of Projection)

Embracing Our Dark Side

Throughout the mythologies of the world, the characters of twins, born from the one Creator, have often symbolised the dualistic nature of the universe. In Greek mythology, there are the twins Apollo and Artemis, who represent the Sun God and Moon Goddess, respectively. The Xingu peoples, a collection of tribes along the Xingu River in Brazil, share the genesis story of Kuat and Lae, who embody the Sun and the Moon, whereby the two come together to give the world night and day — a theme that stretches through each of the major world religions. (‘And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night’). The Egyptian God, Geb, and his twin sister, Nuit, represent the binary nature of the world, for Geb was the God of the Earth, and Nuit was the Goddess of the almighty sky. In Zoroastrian mythology, the ancient pre-Islamic religion of Iran, the twins Ahriman and Ahura Mazda embody the spirits of evil and good. The same pattern presents itself in the mythology of the Wabanaki peoples, or ‘People of the First Light’, whereby Gluskap, the Creator and Hero, the ‘Man who came from nothing’, went on a quest to defeat Malsum, his evil twin, the ruler of the demons, in order to create a good and just world. It is this symbolic theme of Good and Evil, a common conflict within the mythology of twins, which I would like to focus on here.

In the image of the twin, we have a reflection into the soul of man, for the split of the whole into the two twins is symbolic of the split within our own mind and heart. The dark twin, therefore, represents what Carl Jung named the Shadow Self, that which we are unaware of; and the hero twin is our consciousness, a symbol of illumination and purity and light. The shadow then — rather like the neglected sibling, the victim of the parent’s shame and disappointment — is everything that we have denied in ourselves and cast into oblivion, or rather everything that the ego has refused to associate with itself, but that we can see in other people — such things might include our natural sexuality, spontaneity, aggression, instincts, cowardice, carelessness, passion, enthusiasm, love of material possessions. It is, therefore, the role of the shadow, Jung believed, to embody the opposite side of the ego — hence the mythological symbol of the opposing twins.

Jung knew himself to be ignorant and foolish and quick-tempered, and he realised that he had within a certain madness, a capacity to entertain many grievances and misdeeds, and an inclination towards the shocking and the offensive. And yet, such was his dedication to the truth, however dark and uncomfortable, he never refused this mischievousness within himself; for he understood that one need not judge himself for having within him the darkness, for the darkness of the soul is just as much a part of our soul as the lighter aspects — similar to the way a flower must have beneath it mud and compost for its roots to grow. However, in order to yield to the wider world — because that is how humans learn to enjoy one another — we sacrifice those parts of ourselves which have been deemed somehow immoral or mistaken. But by ignoring or misunderstanding our darkness, we divide ourselves from our own thoughts and emotions, and later on we feel cut off from the other half of our true Self. This happens during childhood when we are confronted with the dragon of ‘Thou Shalt’, and told that we must be good and faultless and wonderful; and so we strive to become marvellous, to become the ‘good boy’ that is expected of us — we are ‘put in our place’ by society. All the while, the shadow is forming in the underworld, and slowly begins its descent into hell.

The shadow is necessarily emotional in nature, for it must oppose the rigidness of the ego; it holds its own autonomy, separate from our conscious mind. If we are introspective and honest, then we might be able to recognise some of the dark traits of our personality immediately. However, from experience we know that most often the cause of an emotional outpouring lies with other people. When we are alone, with only our thoughts to keep company, we are at peace; it is only when there are ‘others’ around us, with their own habits and doubts, that we begin to feel uneasy. In other people we see a moving reflection of ourselves, and it often happens that we do not like what we see, and thus we respond accordingly. In the presence of others, then, we should expect to meet with ourselves, because we cannot alone create a projection, we cannot voluntarily summon up deep emotion, rather we encounter the projection out in the world. Each of our relationships, therefore, assists in making us conscious of who we really are, and if we perceive a moral deficiency in others, we can be sure that there is a similar inferiority within ourselves.

Political confrontations are full of shadow projections, and this is in part why the two political parties can never fully come to an understanding. Conservatives believe liberals to be weak and naïve, whereas liberals believe conservatives to be prejudiced and greedy; neither party realise that what they criticise in the other is also a part of themselves. Parliament, therefore, is a racket where each side of the House projects their unconscious onto the other. However, if we identify our shadow with our opponents, then a part of ourselves will always side with the other party in any given argument; and thus we will unconsciously do things that help our opponents. (During the fifties and the sixties, for instance, there were numerous scandals involving Conservative Members of Parliament, the Profumo affair of 1961 comes to mind, which undermined the social and moral order that the Conservative Party were supposed to be ‘conserving’, and assisted the social revolution of the nineteen-sixties.) Social conservatives can never hold themselves to their own moral standards, and liberals will never admit their want of power and money. But there can be no debate and no understanding between two people who despise each other, and not only that, between two people who think they are morally superior to the other. If you believe so profoundly that you are moral, and that the other side is immoral, then you will do just about anything to silence or censor or even destroy your opponents. The field in which the two parties crossover, that high ground where the two reside, is the place where we all live and breathe. And this understanding — the understanding that we are all sinful and wicked in our own way, and that we are not morally superior as people simply because we identify as libertarian or socialist — is necessary if we are to have true and honest political debate.

The difficulty with the shadow is that it will always manipulate and direct our behaviour from the underworld. Projection is inevitable, and it will, if one is unconscious, serve as a shield in protecting the eyes from the shadow. But the man who looks only towards his light, who feels that he can do no wrong, or sees himself as almost perfect, will necessarily attract a rival of some sort, an evil twin, an object who he deems responsible for his woes and defeats. He will see evil in others and shun them for their wickedness, but then rejoice that he could never harbour such evil in his own heart. Such a man is vulnerable to those dark forces which offer an enemy to blame and a utopia for the future; for these two promises keep man ignorant of the dark aspects within his character — his gaze remains fixed upon the light, upon the final utopia. See that this man multiple into a collective and a coalition, and then allow this coalition to indulge in their inferiority, as victims of an oppressor, and the world will witness the fall of another angel, and the rise of the almighty Devil. As Peter Hitchens writes, ‘The problem of utopia is that it can only be approached across a sea of blood, and you never arrive.’ Tyrants always promise to bring down the moon and the sky, to rebuild the world after they have destroyed it, to end all disease, inequality and injustice; and they justify the gulags, the deportations, the secret police, the enforcement of poverty as a necessary means towards the ultimate utopia, the ever-glowing light. Until one day, the light goes out, and the people are forced to stare into their darkness, and they finally see how they were lied to and betrayed. Evil breeds in our unconscious and in our nation when we refuse to confront it, when we ignore it or try to tuck it away, and the longer we refuse this evil, the darker and denser it becomes, until eventually the entire system collapses under the weight of the almighty dragon — this was a steep lesson for those who defended the tyrannies of the previous century.

To discover the forces within the unconscious we have to see them reflected from something or someone else. It is necessary, then, to observe our judgements and our lies, and to recognise our resentment, both for ourselves and for others. And once we are conscious of an aspect to ourselves that was previously unknown, we can begin to integrate it into our character, and bring light and liberation to that which is restless and nervous in the soul. A weak man who sees his harmlessness as innocence and his inoffensiveness as virtue, should pack in it, and recognise that the Devil is within him, that he is capable of the most frightful violence, as we all are. Only then will he sharpen up, drop his resentment and his naivety and assert himself in the world. If he refuses to recognise his resentment, then the shadow will remain as an autonomous spirit and will be vulnerable to projection and sudden eruptions of emotion; even if he manages to console his resentment, the world will, in one way or another, unavoidably punish his naivety. Either we possess the shadow and harness it for the greater good, or the shadow will possess us and act without our will or knowing.

Maturity, therefore, is the process of making conscious all that we let go of when we were a child. As young children, we hide away our spontaneity and our exuberance and our instincts — we hide the very worst and the very best. Yet in adulthood we should endeavor to bring back this natural energy, so that we can realise who we really are, and reach towards an integrated and strong personality that will be able to handle the difficulties in the world. For childhood, as Nietzsche discovered, is the beginning and the end, and once we lose that childish state, the ‘grace of the child’, and that feeling of wholeness, it is our birth right to return during adulthood, except this time we shall return with the wisdom and experience that is associated with being a responsible adult.

Thank you, Harry J. Stead

harry stead