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Reply To: The Shadow


Hi Drewie! You write

I think as long as its a “shadow” its always evil or immoral as far as the ego can “see” and its only when integrated that can be understood as something positive, right?”

Well put! To the ego (“I,” “me,” my experience/perception of myself), the Shadow — the part of myself I can’t see and so resides in the dark (the shadow that consciousness casts) — is experienced as threatening, and hence evil. This includes good contents as well as bad.

Just as the ego contains favorable and destructive attitudes, so the shadow has good qualities––normal instincts and creative impulses.”

Man and His Symbols
C.G. Jung

If from before I could form complete sentences the absolute certainty that “big boys don’t cry” had been impressed upon me by my parents and continually reinforced by the social order in which I am raised, then it’s no surprise that as an adult male I might be at the least uncomfortable with emotion, even to the point of experiencing loathing for males who do express sensitivity. I can’t entertain the thought that I have feelings even though I do, for that would mean I am weak – so I avoid seeing that in myself, stuff those feelings back into the shadows (what is dark and unknown to the waking me), but I can see that in others, so I project my self-loathing outwards. To me, my shadow is evil, but I see that shadow in them, not me.

However, sensitivity and emotion is not in itself evil, though it may feel that way to me.

Hence the moral problem Jung alludes to, which isn’t to suggest the shadow itself is immoral; rather, it takes tremendous moral effort on the part of waking consciousness to break past the default perception of the shadow as evil and embrace its contents as part of one’s whole self.

Of course, no matter how much we embrace the process of integration, there will still always be shadow, still parts of ourselves not directly known to consciousness that make us uncomfortable to contemplate at best – but being open to the shadow aspects of one’s being does help depotentiate the shadow, blunt the destructive powers of the darkness. (Ironically, rather than the shadow itself necessarily being evil, it can compel the person – or the society – whose shadow it is to perform horrible evil.)

From this understanding of my shadow, over the years I have asked my wife to quell the impulse to reach out to wake and soothe me when I am agitated at night, clearly experiencing a nightmare. Only rarely do the dream terrors chase me awake – and when they do, I find myself marveling at and attentive to what it is that is striving to emerge from my unconscious. Sometimes it takes a few days (and a succeeding dream or two) to process what is going on, but I end up with so much more information about myself, and a broader, deeper sense of who I am once I am aware of and partner with what I have been running from, metaphorically speaking.

But most of the time my wife tells me my nightmares resolve themselves without waking, and I settle back into peaceful slumber. Often I do remember the dream, and the resolution: the murderous thug I’m trying to lock out of the house enters, and the dream shifts as that figure morphs into someone offering me food or drink, or events take a positive, even celebratory turn (that’s a generic example – remembered vignettes vary, but that does get across the trajectory).  And that shift mirrors the shift that seems to follow in waking life.

But now I ramble. Glad to see you and James reviving this fascinating conversation . . .