Facing The Darkness, Part II: The Shadow

What is a shadow?
The everyday shadows we see come about when an object blocks a source of light. Not exactly a buzzworthy event!

Why all the fuss about shadows? There are so many legends and myths where shadows have magical properties, including magical creatures that have no shadow at all.

In Jungian Psychology, the word shadow represents an important psychological concept. It speaks of vast unexplored parts of ourselves. When people hear of this concept of hidden parts of ourselves, they often think of a person’s dark side, where violence, endless anger, and hatred are waiting just out of sight.
(Take a look at Debbie Ford’s book, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers for an excellent discussion of the shadow.)
But Jung’s concept of the shadow is much richer than that. It includes the unwanted or unknown parts of ourselves, and there’s both a dark side and a golden side to this. There are parts of us that we’re afraid to face which may seem to be or actually be negative, but there are equally present golden parts of ourselves that can take us far beyond any dreams that we’ve dreamt of what we are capable of being.

The starting point of our exploration of the shadow is to see that we’re afraid of it, and that we’re denying it. As weird as it may sound at first hearing, we’re equally adept at denying our greatness, as we are at denying our weaknesses and inhumanity.

Another related concept that Jung introduces is an idea called projection. Simply put, if we find something distasteful OR extraordinary in others, there must be something in us similar to that.

This doesn’t mean that if we’re horrified by a story of a child molester that there’s a child molester lurking in us, or that if we enjoy the excellent performance of an athlete or musician that we’re secretly an Olympic athlete or rock star.

An exceptionally powerful reaction to a trait in another person may be a hint of something hidden away in us for good or bad that is distantly similar.

Sometimes it’s as simple as being able to notice in others, the negative traits or extraordinary potential in ourselves that we’re afraid to admit to. Everything in us has something to teach us, and even our “negative” traits have something to teach us if we can get past the urge to pretend that they don’t exist.

For example, if I’m angry all the time, is it a message that I’m missing something important in my life and I feel unsafe, and I have to strike out to protect myself? However distasteful, misshapen, twisted or destructive my behavior is, there’s likely something behind it that I need to understand. And as a starting point to getting at the truth, I have to admit to myself that it’s there.

Suppose I can’t find in myself even a hint of something in the world that I rightfully see as negative. Is there some opposite of it that we’ve neglected? If we passionately hate cruelty and violence, have we done everything possible to stand up to protect the victims of violence?

Maybe we have a hidden greatness and strength, which is the positive side or mirror image of the many things that we rightfully see as negative? Even our anger over trivial things might hide a strength that hasn’t found any other outlet.

Facing the Darkness<< Previous in Series                     Next in Series >>
  1. Facing the Darkness, Part I: Who are You?
  2. Facing The Darkness, Part II: The Shadow
  3. Facing The Darkness, Part III: Seeing the World in Color

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