Jung's Shadow-Self and You

After every FICAM training weekend my head stirs with new thoughts and concerns as it relates to individual and group psychology. This weekend we focused on the Jungian notion of the “shadow-self,” or the qualities of our personality that we seek to declaim, repress and deny. The tension between this and the better angels of our nature can lead one to feel as if they are torn between two opposing forces. The inability to reconcile this divide can become a barrier to positive self-growth. This occurs when one’s previous history has been reified in a personal narrative that is given a life of it’s own, and usually occurs around signpost moments in our lives.

These qualities coming to have a negative effect on our present-self is ironic, as these aspects of our personality that we conceive of as being negative, contaminated, careless, self-destructive or in other ways detrimental to our living our life in accordance with the image we wish is often materialized from what we conceive of as it’s opposite: positive intentions. For instance the “shadow” can manifest as an increased selfishness or neediness in order to assist one at a time when it’s recognized at some level of the consciousness as necessary to extract oneself from a damaging relationship. Perhaps a feeling of debilitating pain and guilt emerges during an episode of significant loss of something or someone significant. In either case, these coping mechanisms can endure in the unconscious and subsequently impinge on the conscious-self in unwanted ways. In the cases of the two examples I gave this can take the form of a generalize selfishness in relationships or aversion to the give-and-take required of serious romantic relationships or a generalized depression and feelings of worthlessness.

If these aspects of our consciousness are not dealt with properly, such forces can become almost like a possessive spirit. We become trapped in stories, whose lessons don’t now apply and debilitate us. While simply to deny this “shadow self” is attractive and suits well our vanity, for from such a position we are able to claim enlightenment, rationality and superiority for not having that in us, the truth is it is a specious reality that is sometimes insufficient to wrest control from that spirit within us.

Instead, at times we must acknowledge this shadow-self is a recurrent force popping up at various times throughout our lives with various degrees of intensity. Additionally we must learn to accept it, neigh embrace it, as a part of us that is sometimes helpful, but also sometimes hurtful. With greater insight into our own internal motivations, fears, and values, we are able to have greater control over them and thus work to adjust ourselves to our consciously desired state.

In the course of our group work over the weekend myself and other FICAM students drew our shadow-selves to depict our own personal conception of the shadow so that we may encounter it with our rationality, for leaving it solely to the realm of the unconscious is to allow it to express itself through us without our full awareness. Not wanting to be imbalanced, we also drew pictures of our “light-self” so we could face that as well. What followed were a number of neuro-linguistic programming, bioenergetics and formative psychology exercises, as well as traditional talk therapy intervention, using Jung’s work as a foundation. The experiences people had were powerful, encouraging us to move beyond the self-degradation and towards self-empowerment. I greatly enjoyed the weekend and look forward to one day soon being able to share these powerful tools with clients.