Carl Jung, Videos

Face Your Dark Side – Carl Jung and the Shadow

The following is a transcript of this video.

“Like plants, so men also grow, some in the light, others in the shadows. There are many who need the shadows and not the light.”

Carl Jung, The Red Book

None of us are as good as we like to think. We possess animalistic drives for sex and power. We have a cruel and aggressive side that can do great harm to others, and we tend to deny our flaws and weaknesses. But what we deny does not disappear, it sinks into the unconscious and congregates in what Carl Jung called the shadow. In this video we are going to explore how confronting the shadow, and integrating its elements into our personality, is a means to rejuvenate our life and heal a divided world.

“Only the man who goes through this darkness can hope to make any further progress.”

Carl Jung, Yoga and the West

For a shadow to be cast an object must impede a path of light. The object that casts our psychological shadow is our persona. Persona is a Latin word signifying a mask worn by an actor. In Jungian psychology, the persona represents the metaphorical mask we wear in the social world. It is the collection of character traits we want others to believe define us, or as Jung writes, the persona is:

“. . .a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual.”

Carl Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology

The construction of our persona begins early in life as we learn which elements of our character garner approval from family members, peers, and society at large, and which are rejected. The former we integrate into our persona, the latter we hide behind this mask. Over time, however, so as not to feel like a fraud, most of us identify with our persona and in the process hide unwanted character traits not only from others, but also from ourselves. These character traits are repressed and congregate in the unconscious to form the shadow.

“[The shadow is] the inferior part of the personality; sum of all . . . psychic elements which, because of their incompatibility with the chosen conscious attitude [of the persona], are denied expression in life and therefore coalesce into a relatively autonomous “splinter personality” with contrary tendencies in the unconscious.”

Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

The repressed contents of our shadow do not lie dormant in the unconscious, never to be heard from again. Rather they operate in an autonomous manner behind the spotlight of conscious awareness. One way the shadow manifests itself is through projection, wherein we perceive in other individuals, groups, nations, races, or political parties, the weaknesses, faults, and evils, that reside within ourselves. Or as Jung put it:

“We still attribute to the other fellow all the evil and inferior qualities that we do not like to recognize in ourselves, and therefore have to criticize and attack him, when all that has happened is that an inferior “soul” has emigrated from one person to another. The world is still full of … scapegoats, just as it formerly teemed with witches and werewolves.”

Carl Jung, Civilization in Transition

Elements of our shadow also find expression in our day-to-day life by affecting our moods and behaviors. For the character traits, instincts, and desires that we repress fester in the unconscious, creating a tension between our conscious personality and the autonomous splinter personality of the shadow. At times of stress, or conflict, when our conscious mind is unable to keep the doors of the unconscious closed, the shadow reveals itself, and often with damaging consequences.

“There are patients who boast that for them the shadow-side does not exist; they assure us that they have no conflict, but they do not see that other things of unknown origin cumber their path – hysterical moods, underhand tricks which they play on themselves and their neighbours, a nervous [inflammation] of the stomach, pains in various places, irritability for no reason, and a whole host of nervous symptoms.”

Carl Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology

Rather than denying the shadow, we are far better served by shining a light on this dark side of our character. Confronting the shadow begins with accepting its existence and realizing that the personality we portray to the world, and our conscious sense of self, does not represent us in totality. Once accepted, honest self-reflection and self-criticism, can reveal some of the traits we have been hiding from. The good and the bad explains Jung

“…are bound to come to light in [us], should [we] wish – as [we] ought – to live without self-deception or self-delusion.”

Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

But not all the contents of our shadow can be confronted by turning within as some elements of our character have been pushed too far into the depths of the unconscious. To unearth these elements, we can use a few different tactics: Firstly, we should take notice of any traits in other people that trigger a particularly strong emotional reaction, as this is a sign that the same trait lies within us. Another tactic is to peer into the shadow of someone close to us – a task that is typically easier than peering into our own. For although some aspects of the shadow are personal, much that gets deposited there is influenced by social and cultural trends and so shared among members of our society. A character trait we reject, has likely been rejected by a sibling or close friend. If we can learn about their shadow, clues about our own will be revealed.

“. . . I have come to the conclusion that the most individual thing about man is surely his consciousness, but that his shadow. . . is far less individualized, the reason being that a man is distinguished from his fellows more by his virtues than by his negative qualities.”

Carl Jung, Fundamental Questions of Psychotherapy

One of the many benefits of gaining greater knowledge of our dark side is that it creates a contrast that allows the good of our character to stand out in greater prominence. Or as Jung writes, when we confront the shadow we suddenly

“. . . see both sides. [We] become aware not only of [our] moral inferiorities but also, automatically, of [our] good qualities. [We] rightly say, “I can’t be as bad as all that.” To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light.”

Carl Jung, Civilization in Transition

Confronting the shadow also reduces the ability of our flaws and weaknesses to wreak havoc on our life. Awareness of an anger issue, selfishness, greed, or aggression, or of an obsession or compulsion, grants us the opportunity to exert a modicum of control over it. We can strive to overcome the flaw, or at least minimize its potential damage, for as Jung explains:

“The psychiatrist knows that certain dangerous unconscious forces can be rendered harmless, or at least held in check, if they are made conscious, that is, if the patient can assimilate them and integrate them with his personality.”

Carl Jung, Collected Works Volume 18

In the shadow we also discover instinctual drives for aggression, power, and sex, that contain immense amounts of energy. In becoming aware of these drives, and sublimating them – that is, putting them in the service of higher ends – these drives can empower us, motivate us to take the needed risks for a fulfilling life, and even spur our creativity.

“. . .only down below can we find the fiery source of life. . .”

Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy

The shadow contains more than just animalistic instincts, flaws, and weaknesses. It is also home to strengths of our character which we repressed as a result of a poor upbringing or adapting to a sick society. Some people, for example, deny their intelligence, creativity, resoluteness, or ability to act in defiance of corrupt authority figures:

“. . .[the] shadow,” writes Jung “does not consist only of morally reprehensible tendencies, but also displays a number of good qualities, such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc. . . the shadow is on one side regrettable and reprehensible weakness, on the other side healthy instinctivity and the prerequisite for higher consciousness.”

Carl Jung, Aion

To harness the positive side of our shadow requires more than merely observing what resides in its depths. We should consciously integrate the elements of our shadow into our character and allow them expression in our day-to-day life, or as Jung’s renowned student Erich Neumann wrote:

“The recognition and acceptance of the shadow presupposes more than a mere willingness to look at one’s dark brother – and then to return him to a state of suppression where he languishes like a prisoner in a gaol. It involves granting him freedom to share in one’s life.”

Erich Neumann, Depth Psychology and a New Ethic

Re-connecting with the positive side of our shadow, minimizing the effects of it negative side, and integrating it all into our conscious sense of self, produces a character that tends toward the ideal of wholeness – which Jung believed defined the psychologically healthy. As we approach a state of wholeness, we become more attractive to other people. For human beings possess an instinctive suspicion of those who appear too good and who identify too much with their persona. We know that beneath a bright persona, lurks a dark and dangerous shadow. Far more attractive is the complete character, the whole man, who knows not only of his strengths, virtues, and potential for good, but also of his weaknesses, faults, and potential for evil. Or as Jung writes:

“. . .the shadow belongs to the wholeness of the personality: the strong man must somewhere be weak, somewhere the clever man must be stupid, otherwise he is too good to be true and falls back on pose and bluff. Is it not an old truth that woman loves the weaknesses of the strong man more than his strength, and the stupidity of the clever man more than his cleverness? Her love wants the whole man . . .”

Carl Jung, Civilization in Transition

Those of us who take up the challenge of confronting the shadow will also help heal a divided world. For when we face the shadow, we withdraw our projections, and we stop participating in the rampant scapegoating of political opponents or members of a different race, religion, ethnicity, or gender:

“If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all these projections,” writes Jung “then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against.”

Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East

Too many people see all the problems in society, and all the problems of other people, but fail to notice the much more serious problem that lies within themselves. They fail to see they are a character split in two and until they confront the shadow side, they will only amplify the hostility and divisiveness of the modern world.

“. . .[the man who confronts his shadow] knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day. . .How can anyone see straight when he does not even see himself and the darkness he unconsciously carries with him into all his dealings?”

Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East

Further Readings

2 comments

  • I love what you have done here in fleshing out Carl Jung’s observations of the effects of the unseen parts of the human psyche.
    The effects of the “shadow person” on a person’s behavior are, in my experience, the most significantly powerful force in human interactions with our world.
    A happy “shadow person” will find joy in the most unlikely places where an unhappy “shadow person” will find disappointment wherever they find themselves.
    I have found that the most important things that my own “shadow person” needs are Forgiveness, Love, Acceptance (of ALL that life has to offer) and Gratitude. These four things constitute the FLAG that I center myself on and am able to rally around when my “shadow person” begins to feel insecure, fearful, self-pitying, etc., or just flat out sad.
    When my “shadow person” falls into the negative abyss of fear, the simple act of finding one thing that I am grateful for reminds me of something else that I am grateful for, and on and on, until I realize that my shadow of fear has led me into a state of mind that is quite disrespectful of the gifts that have been bestowed on me along with the gift of my life. My “shadow person” is then awakened to appreciate my life and all that is around me, including all the work that others, including Carl Jung and yourself, have done toward understanding and improving our human condition.
    Every breath is a treasure. Every fragment of love is a gem of light so precious that it demands our honor of it. To not honor it is to spit in the face of our creator.
    The best way I know to honor the gift of my life is to be understanding, compassionate and loving toward my own “shadow person”, which enables me to do the same toward others.
    Thank you for the thoughtfulness that you put into all of your essays and the inspiration the you bring to others.
    It is greatly appreciated.

  • The piece was amazing but the comment you posted, dear wise sold is the best thing I could have ever blindly stumbled upon late at night. It was exactly what I’m struggling with a d you so clearly communicated what I’m just beginning to grasp. My self-doubt is ever close in the shadowy reaches and you have shined a light. Thank you.

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Art Used in this Video

William Blake - Nebuchadnezzar (Minneapolis)
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - Dante And Virgil In Hell (1850)
Through hell with Hiprah Hunt; a series of pictures and notes of travel illustrating the adventures of a modern Dante in the infernal regions; also other pictures of the same subterranean world (1901) (14587635639)
Gustave Doré - Dante Alighieri - Inferno - Plate 11 (Canto IV - Limbo, the Viruous Pagans)
'Hip, Hip, Hurrah! Artist Festival at Skagen', by Peder Severin Krøyer (1888) Demisted with DXO PhotoLab Clearview; cropped away black border edge
Shadowman-3
Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio - The Portrait's Box - WGA08929
Włodzimierz Tetmajer - The Artist’s Family - MNK II-b-66 - National Museum Kraków
Pierre-Auguste Renoir - Luncheon of the Boating Party - Google Art Project
Cruikshank fagin cell
Vincent Malo - Interior with fighting peasants
1-Luzifer
Stradano Inferno Canto 13
Pur 19 avari
TI-blindpew
Rondes des farfadets by David Ryckaert III M0121 P 2251
Sascha Schneider - Der Chodem
Renoir - Party in the Country at Berneval, 1898
Konstantin Somov - self-portrait-in-the-mirror
DVinfernoUbertiAddressesDante m
Adriaen Brouwer - The Bitter Potion - Google Art Project
Ill-Matched Lovers by Quentin Massys, Netherlandish, c. 1520-1525, oil on panel - National Gallery of Art, Washington - DSC09936
Gustave Doré - Dante Alighieri - Inferno - Plate 65 (Canto XXXI - The Titans)
Peter Paul Rubens - Self-Portrait in a Circle of Friends from Mantua - WGA20355
Lorenzo Lotto - Allegory of Virtue and Vice - Google Art Project
Dore Gustave 21 Curs-d wolf thy fury inward on thyself prey and consume thee
Sascha Schneider - Am Rio De La Plata
The Education of Achilles, by James Barry
Sascha Schneider - Eine Vision (A Vision)
Hypnose (Schneider)
Karl May Durch die Wueste Schneider 001
Daniel's Answer to the King
131.Daniel in the Lions' Den
Stradano Inferno Canto 05
Ary Scheffer - The Temptation of Christ (1854)
William Orpen Herbert Barnard John Everett
Emanuel Krescenc Liška – Cain (1885)
Sascha Schneider - Es ist vollbracht (1895)
The Genius and the Crowd
Ralph Hedley (follower) An argument from opposite premises
William Blake - The Ghost of a Flea - Google Art Project
Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde, Vaughn Shoemaker, political cartoon, ink and crayon, Dallas Museum of Art