A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way ~ Carl Jung
Most of us tend to like it when we do things well, win, feel confident, assured, or loved. We enjoy reflecting on these experiences and positive interpersonal exchanges. Psychologists often call these experiences egosyntonic; they fit in with our self-image. However, other experiences that are not quite so positive in nature which reveal our less than urbane qualities or inferiorities are more egodystonic; they do not fit with what we like to experience as “me”.
These disowned propensities often get banished to the dark side. They sleep safely in the unconscious – untouched- seemingly gone- sometimes for months or even years- until one fine unsuspecting sunny afternoon you’re suddenly triggered- – and you find yourself acting out in some way that your “normal self” would never do. Usually it’s fear of some sort that triggers it, fear or losing a relationship, a job, finances, health…these are great triggers for the shadow.
The truth is everyone acts out sometimes, on some level of the spectrum. But when your behavior feels out of control, and you experience true powerlessness to act any other way in that moment – you know you have hit shadow material. True shadow behavior feels very strong, historical, and almost robotic.
After a shadow episode, hiding at home under your covers only works for so long, then you have to get up and face the day. And truly my friend, perfection in the game of interpersonal relationships is NOT the goal, nor is it possible. Perfection is for statues, immovable and dead. You are alive and to be alive is to be ever changing.
Most living people have shadows and your shadow is your friend because it is rich with information! It is not something to get rid of. The shadow holds your fears, your darkness and your light, because it is part of you. All of you is acceptable, lovable and divine, not just the polished parts. Integrating your shadow side is paramount in the process of Individuation and becoming a whole person.
Instead of judging yourself harshly for these shadow appearances- and swearing to never let that creature out again – be grateful and become curious about them. When the shadow reveals herself, it is never comfortable, but it is always an opportunity to learn, grow and live more consciously.
In his Collected Works, Carl Jung says about the Shadow:
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…But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.
In “Good and Evil in Analytical Psychology” (1959). In CW 10. Civilization in Transition. P.872, Jung says:
To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light. Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self. Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.
Embracing your light as well as your dark side is about living in “the middle” as Jung describes above. It’s not about denying the shadow sides of ourselves, but more about getting to know them, integrating and loving them.
The shadow is part of our beauty, our wholeness, our humanness. Practicing love and acceptance for this part that feels vulnerable, depressed, “needy”, jealous or fearful is healing. Developing a gentle compassionate presence for the shadow side is truly empowering. By default, it will also increase your capacity to tolerate the imperfect behaviors in others, such as your children, spouse, co-workers and friends.
One method I often use in therapy is taken in part from Gendlin’s Focusing. The first step entails closing your eyes or focusing on a spot on the floor, then beginning to become aware of your breathing (meditation practice helps here), then allowing your attention to locate the place in your body where you are most clearly experiencing painful thoughts & feelings about a recent event or something that has been weighing on your mind. Often people feel sensation in their chest or belly area, but it can be anywhere- just tune in to find yours. The instruction is then to simply breathe and be with that place in your body. You don’t attempt to change it, but merely cradle that space with loving kind awareness, breathing in and out, staying there for several breaths and then returning to the room and opening your eyes.
An additional piece to add to this meditation is – while cradling the painful feeling in your body as described above- simultaneously expand your consciousness outward to first the sounds in the room, then take your mind outward to the roof, the tops of the trees and continue expanding and broadening your consciousness while continuing to return to and briefly touch into this pain in your body. Bounce back and forth between the two- expanded consciousness and acute pain-. Then when you are ready return to the room and open your eyes.
Best to you- all parts of you,
1. “Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131
2. “Good and Evil in Analytical Psychology” (1959). In CW 10. Civilization in Transition. P.872
3. “The Philosophical Tree” (1945). In CW 13: Alchemical Studies. P.335