The Shadow Self
Carl Jung’s contributions to psychology remain relevant to this day and one of the phenomena he described is the ‘Shadow Self.’
In 1963, Jung wrote, “The shadow is that hidden, repressed, for the most part inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of the unconscious.”
In simpler terms, the Shadow Self is the darker, animal side of each us; a side of ourselves that most people prefer not to think about or even acknowledge. It is made up of all the things we consider to be evil or unacceptable – so much so, that we refuse to recognise them within ourselves.
Most of us would like to deny that we have a dark side and the classical reaction is the Freudian defence mechanism of Projection. If we can cast our shadows onto others, imbuing them with the dark traits we would prefer to deny possessing, we are able to avoid confronting ourselves. We do this subconsciously and the results are likely to lead, at best, to interpersonal conflicts and, at worst, to all-out-war.
However, our Shadow Self doesn’t need to rule us. They can only do so if we deny their existence, repress them, and project them. One of the central concepts in the process of Jungian analysis is that of coming to terms with our Shadow Self and finding ways to constructively integrate it into our conscious personalities. Jung points out that the unconscious or Shadow Self is more than just a collection of evils and vices, but also “a number of good qualities, such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc.”
Trying to consistently deny such a vital element of oneself as one’s subconscious reactions to situations is a recipe for disaster. Our personal and spiritual growth become stunted if we fail to embrace our Shadow Self. No one can be a saintly Dr Jekyll continuously and if we don’t want our inner Mr Hyde making a sudden and shocking appearance during times of stress, it’s important to know him, recognise him, allow him some expression when appropriate or confront him consciously when his promptings are inappropriate to our ‘higher self’ or conscious mind.
One of Jung’s followers, Liliane Frey-Rohn, summed up this coming to terms with the Shadow Self as “a psychological problem of the highest moral significance. It demands that the individual hold himself accountable not only for what happens to him, but also for what he projects.”
Frey-Rohn concludes, “Without the conscious inclusion of the shadow in daily life there cannot be a positive relationship with other people, or to the creative sources in the soul, there cannot be an individual relationship with the Divine.”
Thus, the darkest corners of our minds, if well explored, understood and accepted as a part of us can lead us to the sublime.