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Embrace Your Shadow Self

Carl Jung
1875-1961

Hello, my name is Carl Jung, and I worked as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in the 20th century. Inspired by the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and my mentor Sigmund Freud I was drawn to explore the depth of the human psyche.

In this lesson, I would like to talk with you about one of my major insights: the importance of acknowledging and integrating your own shadow.

The shadow is the unknown dark side of your personality. It consists of everything that you don't acknowledge about yourself: suppressed impulses, emotions, and fantasies.

As children, we were filled with energy and intensity. We didn't differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable behavior and traits. We used to express both sides of our shared humanity: kindness, love, generosity, but also anger, selfishness, and greed.

As we were growing up, we learned to identify ourselves with the "good" traits and reject the "bad" ones. This happened due to social pressure, based on the feedback we receive from our parents, our teachers, and peers. But also due to psychological traumas, disorders, and wrong beliefs.

When you were acting aggressively and selfishly towards other children, throwing sand at them, or not sharing your food, your parents told you that this is not how one should behave.

When you had a creative outburst in class or were simply looking for some attention and affirmation, your teacher probably told you to sit quietly and to follow the rules.

As for my patients, you should know that some of them turned out hyper agreeable later in life because of their tyrannical father. By promising themselves to never become like him, they had completely abandoned any kind of selfish or aggressive behavior, to the point where it became very hard for them to even say 'no' to another person. Consequently, they engaged in abusive relationships, reliving their childhood trauma, or were mistreated at work.

Finally, there is a good chance that you know someone who has rejected (at least in part) his trusting, open and kind side after being rejected himself.

I hope these examples can help you grasp the concept of the shadow self a little bit better. I want you to understand that, while your shadow mainly consists of primitive emotions and thrives, such as anger and envy, it might also contain your very best qualities.

Now, you might ask yourself, "why would I want to acknowledge the dark side of my personality? Humanity (myself included) is probably better off if I bury my aggressiveness, my hatred, and mistrust deep down."

I would like to say two things about that: First, it's an illusion to think that you can control your dark sides by repressing them. Quite the opposite is true: the more you suppress them, the more unconscious ways they find to express themselves. For example, in the form of unjust and harsh judgments of others who act out certain aspects of their personality which you don't want to acknowledge about yourself.

Secondly, it wouldn't be in your best interest to completely repress your dark sides, even if it was possible. You have to understand that the shadow contains all the wild intensity and creativity your childhood was filled with. One might call it the Dionysian fountain of life. So instead of drying out this sparkling source of vitality, you should aim to direct it into a balanced and new way of consciousness.

However, this requires us - first of all - to decipher and acknowledge our shadow self. Therefore I suggest, that we further explore some of the most typical ways in which our shadow might reveal itself.

In general, it is easier for us to witness the signs of the shadow self in others who are close to us. Our friends and colleagues usually are pretty nice. They are relatively polite, understanding, and responsible. But now and then - often in stressful moments - a breakthrough happens. In contrast to their usual persona of being a friend or a colleague, they fail to conceal the dark side of their character.

Out of nowhere they make a harsh or cruel comment about someone, they quit their job in an act of impulsiveness, or you catch them lying and trying to manipulate.

Afterward, they might apologize and frame their action as a weird exception. They might say that they don't know what came over them, that they simply had a bad day, or that the person on the receiving end surely deserves it.

In these breakthrough moments, you can witness features of the hurt and upset child who wants to be heard and reconciled.

Think of an example of such a breakthrough moment in the people close to you, maybe in the last couple of weeks? Were you surprised or even shocked? How did the person explain their behaviour?

While we are able to take a more or less direct glimpse of a person's shadow side in these moments of exception, we can also learn to interpret a person's troublesome patterns of choice as a sign of the shadow side of their psyche.

These patterns can manifest themselves quite differently. You might know someone who tends to break up with others so that they don't come too close, another person might show somewhat of the opposite pattern. Meaning that they jump from relationship to relationship, while each relationship, each partner functions as the anchor point of their life.

Think of, let's say, two patterns in the life of your friends, which might stem from an unresolved shadow problem? They could be connected to their love and work life or to the way they handle criticism or stress.

Let's leave it here for now. In the next lesson, I would like to talk with you a little more in-depth about how to decipher the signs of the shadow self in other people and of course in yourself. Till then: take care of yourself.

Carl Jung
1875-1961

Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist who founded analytic psychology, in some aspects a response to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis. Jung proposed and developed the concepts of the extraverted and the introverted personality, archetypes, and the collective unconscious.

Source: Britannica

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