The Shadow #1

25th August 2011

The Shadow – a term used by Jung and other psychologists to describe those parts of our subconscious containing repressed instincts, drives or other weaknesses. Check out Wikipedia for a layman’s explanation of the Jungian take on this.  This is also a subject which is discussed in personal development and healing circles  – in an earlier post I referenced Debbie Ford’s excellent book “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers“. To recap on that post, working on the shadow is an important part of personal development and healing because when hidden these parts of our selves interfere with our day to day lives, and are usually destructive or limiting to a greater or lesser extent. For instance, unrecognized fears or anger is projected into the outside world so that we “hate” or dislike someone for doing a particular thing (or anything at all for that matter!)  when in fact our problem is with ourselves, rather than any other person.

I have previously written about energy being like “light” – in understanding the concept of the shadow think of your personality as a window through which you shine: if the window is obscured by an aspect of your shadow then there are two impacts. Firstly, not all of the “real you” can show itself to the world as its light has been distorted or blocked by the shadow; and secondly you are projecting into the world and your relationships a distorted aspect of your personality. Despite the temptation to react in a knee-jerk fashion to these concepts, there is a clear and manifest truth in these ideas. We always have a choice as to whether to explore them and discover what truth they hold for us, or alternatively to retreat into cynicism and derision. It is tempting and often easier to fall backwards into cynicism because it is hard work to face up to who we are and the impact we have had on the lives of others, and most of all on our own lives. The paradox I have come to understand is that in working on the “shadow”, I have had to accept and integrate those parts of myself which I did not like and did not want to see. This is because all things have an opposite and exist in polarity – in knowing one emotion, we come to know and experience its opposite as well. For many years I knew and experienced rage and sadness; in working through these emotions I came to experience (and allowed myself to experience) their opposites. It is as if the strength of one experience amplifies the experience of its opposite. More importantly, and harder to grasp, is the notion that the pairs of opposites are merely aspects of one unified whole. The experience is of one or the other at one time, because that is the nature of the human experience here.

In being honest and open with ourselves about our fears, desires and dreams we are better equipped to make informed choices about what we do and how we live. It is clear that giving into anger or desires may, regardless of whether we understand our “shadow” and its impact on us, be a poor choice for us in a given moment. However, it is often necessary to experience these “poor” choices in order to come to an understanding that we can choose something “better” and that we deserve better.  This takes time and we may need to hold onto the anger or pain for some time – this may sound masochistic (and may in fact be so), however who is to say when it is right for another person to let go of their sorrow or anger? It may take years to process that experience and to come to know and understand these heavy and difficult emotions. Some people hold it inside, others let it go and let the outside world know they are pissed off.

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