Shadow is a normal part of our psychological development and is not the dark side of who we are. It simply is. In order to be fully whole we have to embrace, accept and have compassion for our shadow. Shadow is simply the storage unit for the parts of ourselves that we decided were unhelpful or unacceptable as we developed an Ego/Persona/Personality type in order to deal with this extroverted world. We needed to define ourselves for others or in truth they would define us. That is, they would project their own shadow onto us. My own persona is “I am a hardworking, goal oriented, competitive person who will help your business succeed”. That might be great for a business interview but the shadow side might be better for personal relationships. That would be a persona that is “Easy going, relationship based, mutually supportive person who will value our relationship”. The combination of Persona and Shadow is a whole person.
So how are Fear, Anger and Sadness gifts from the shadow. They are gifts because they alert us to the abandoned parts of ourselves that we need to re-collect. If someone calls me incompetent and I experience anger then I need to re-collect incompetence from my shadow. If someone calls me weak and I am fearful, then I need to re-collect weakness from my shadow. If I can accept that incompetence and weakness are simply parts of who I am then I will not experience emotional reactivity to someone else’s name calling. I will not be impacted. That frees up my energy and gives me more options for relating to others. In addition, my psyche knows that there are times that I am incompetent, I don’t speak Chinese, or weak, I can’t lift a car by myself, which frees my psyche up from burning energy to deny these facts of life. I am both competent and incompetent. I am both strong and weak. I am both humble and arrogant. I am loving and selfish. I am unique and mundane. I am knowledgeable and ignorant. I am responsible and at times irresponsible. I am powerful and weak. I am harmonious and chaotic. I am all of these things and more. The concept of wholeness is expressed elegantly in the poem “The Thunder, Perfect Mind” from the Gnostic Gospels.
Look upon me, you who reflect upon me,
and you hearers, hear me.
You who are waiting for me, take me to yourselves.
And do not banish me from your sight.
And do not make your voice hate me, nor your hearing.
Do not be ignorant of me anywhere or any time. Be on your guard!
Do not be ignorant of me.
For I am the first and the last.
I am the honored one and the scorned one.
I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am <the mother> and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
and many are her sons.
I am she whose wedding is great,
and I have not taken a husband.
I am the midwife and she who does not bear.
I am the solace of my labor pains.
I am the bride and the bridegroom,
and it is my husband who begot me.
I am the mother of my father
and the sister of my husband
and he is my offspring.
Be on your guard! Do not be ignorant of me. Those are appropriate words for dealing with our Shadow. If you are in conflict with another person you are in your Shadow—“Be on Guard!” The opportunity for identifying the cause of your emotional reactivity is at this very moment. “Do not be ignorant of me” for it is the ignorance that causes suffering, not the Shadow.
Carl Jung had this to say about Shadow. “The best political, social, and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our shadow onto others.” I agree. Our current political environment reminds me of the 1950’s when television became generally available. Soap Operas were the rage and my Mother and friends would discuss the characters and their antics as if that was reality. It was just as much reality as the current political discourse. Political figures like soap opera heroines provide us with the opportunity to project our shadow onto them and then claim that as reality. Instead, we need to take personal responsibility for the feelings that we have disavowed and make them part of our totality as human beings, not attribute them to other people. When we all own our Persona and Shadow then conflict will abate. Until then it is impossible. Goethe said “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the world will be clean”.
I look forward to discussing Shadow and what we can do to “Sweep in front of our own door”. That is how we will change the world.
Steve Purdom, M.D.