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When we hear people throwing around the psychological term, The Shadow, what does it mean? The answer is not simple. And should we wrestle with the complex Jungian theory, understanding will elude us. So, I will present one simple idea, which should be allowed to germinate, take root, and grow into a stupendous blossoming of consciousness (we hope).
Here goes then…
Simply…The Shadow or “shadow aspect” describes all those traits and tendencies of which we are entirely unconscious. Read that sentence again… entirely unconscious. That means, step one is to first acknowledge its existence.
I have a shadow, you have a shadow, everyone has a shadow. Wherever we go, it follows. There is no escape. The more we run from it, the more it chases us. In that Shadow, are all the nasty things about ourselves, the traits and tendencies that the conscious ego will not recognise. Let’s face it, it’s hard to acknowledge the least desirable aspects of our natures, things about us that would cause shame, catch us red-handed, make us squirm should we see ourselves as others see us. We disown the-less-than-glorious-traits that make us fall from hero to being merely mortal, human, imperfect, raging, lusty, greedy, self-seeking, self-important, self-indulgent, power-hungry, judgemental, jealous, possessive etc., etc. Hence, we deny, reject, repress such unworthy traits and project them instead onto others. It is easy to blame others for what we despise in ourselves. Seeing Shadow traits in someone else makes us angry, presses our buttons, makes us react, makes us feel righteous indignation, raises us to superior. Because we do not make friends with our imperfections, Shadow traits are; therefore, mostly negative.
This doesn’t have to be the case. Positive tendencies may also remain hidden in one’s shadow. If, for example, a person suffers from low self-esteem, there may be a source of untapped strength or unrecognised potential hidden in the shadow also, which, when acknowledged, becomes a source of personal transformation. Those who quest for self-actualisation or individuation seek to befriend shadow traits, to tap into them as a source of creativity, to integrate them into a fully conscious, healthy wholeness. “Everyone carries a shadow,” wrote Jung, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”
In spite of the shadow being the reservoir of human darkness, or perhaps because of it, the shadow is often a powerful source of creativity, as when we tap into our dark side, we tap into the true spirit of life…the wildness in us, the passion and the power in us, the trickster not afraid to upend the status quo, the raging one ready to move mountains to follow a belief, the angry one ready to lead a revolution, the fool ready to leap off the precipice into the unknown and take a chance, the seeker of power who becomes a leader of others, the rejected, lusty one who writes the great love story.
As writers and artists, we often sojourn in the realm of The Shadow, plummet into personal darkness, explore the hidden recesses of not only the personal unconscious but the Collective Unconscious. This journey and subsequent Self discovery helps develop consciousness. In knowing and befriending Shadow, we are enabled to grow in understanding of others, deepen compassion, become more whole and give greater value to the Light. Simply: we awaken our hearts. We cannot blame others for what we discover in ourselves; forgiveness is made easy, being judgemental is transformed into being understanding. This does not happen through willed acts of covering over things with transcendental elegance, but through genuine acts of heart-felt empathy.
Back to the discovery of Shadow through dreaming: The Shadow speaks in dreams through those nameless, faceless figures/animals who chase us, try to kill us, appear as nightmares, fill us with fear and shame. Nightmares are good! They mean Psyche is speaking, offering us a chance to grow. All those fearful images are merely representations of hidden, Shadow aspects, those traits or tendencies that help make up the whole truth of who we are.
Copyright Niamh Clune 2013