The process of Shadow Work is to shed light on those things that live in the dark, then love them to death...literally love them until they no longer have a life of their own - by integrating them.
Standing in the bright evening sunlight, before the sun begins to set, I notice my shadow on the building wall. I remember being a child trying to run away from it only to realize it was attached to me; an imprint of my physical existence planted firmly on any surface I stood near, and always close by. In the present I stare at it with gratitude, knowing how far I’ve traveled through the depths of my psyche and soul to achieve the peace I feel when looking into the darker tinted version of myself: The Shadow Self.
As Carl Jung writes in Psychology and Alchemy:
“There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection.”
Jungian Psychology sees the Self both as an external Ego Self and an internal Shadow Self. The Shadow Self consists of the Anima/Animus or the soul’s essence of who we are as both a male and a female energy that resides inside each one of us. This is where archetypes like to hide. And within each archetype lives two potentials. As within the Queen or the King Archetypes, there is the choice of how you will use your crown of power. Will you use it for magnanimous endeavors or to behead anyone you deem distasteful? Within the confounds of this choice and whether or not there is a balance between them lives The Shadow.
We spend a good part of our life constructing an Ego identity that ensures our acceptance and safety within the tribal confines of our family and society, casting out any behaviors that are deemed as unacceptable to them. All the things we’ve denied in ourselves—whatever we perceived as inferior, evil, or unacceptable became parts of what formed that shadow. This disowned self can also contain positive qualities that we’ve decided don’t fit our Ego identity. When those aspects are pushed aside, they’re swept into the shadow as well where they end up living within the confines of our unconscious, just waiting for their cue - their trigger.
When Good and Bad are Experienced Simultaneously:
The Duality of Nature Leads to Wholeness
In the movie Gremlins, the mogwai (Cantonese for "devil") were cute fuzzy creatures that made great companions just as long as three rules were upheld. These rules as we learn later in the movie transform the cute fluffy mogwai into demonic gremlins. “Do not expose the mogwai to light, especially sunlight, which will kill it, do not let it come in contact with water, and most importantly of all, no matter how much it cries or begs, never feed it after midnight.” These were essentially shadow creatures that needed to be handled with consideration and care. When the human caretaker gave into temptation by deciding to break the third rule and fed the cute little mogwai after midnight, they transformed into demonic and
murderous reptilian monsters, spawning out of control and causing havoc all over town. When these creatures were exposed to sunlight they were finally able to be defeated. This is in essence shadow work. When one gives in to the temptation of the shadow too much, it turns into an overly emotional and disgusting creature. The only thing that could rid the town of the Gremlins was shining the light of the sun onto them. It’s here where we can see how powerful shedding light onto the shadow becomes allowing the unconscious to be conscious. The shadow loses its power as the angry controlling monster, and the person can live as a whole and integrated person. The integration of this shadow is key. At the end of the movie Mr. Wing, the original owner of the mogwais came to retrieve Gizmo scolding the Peltzers for their carelessness, claiming that the Western world was not ready for the gift of the mogwai. Particularly interesting in terms of Eastern philosophy and thinking where the dualistic concept of the Taijitu, or what the Western World recognizes as the “Yin-Yang symbol” originates. The symbol of balance and wholeness: the keys to integration.
What are your triggers? What sets you off in a visceral or emotional response? Where are you asserting yourself with little in return? Why does it seem like others or perhaps the world is against you, while you are trying your best to be the good guy? What is it that you aren’t seeing? A good place to start may be to ask yourself the question, “What is it that I may be resisting?
What you resist may be the very thing that persists. That which is denied, repressed, or rejected gains the strength that can haunt you.
It's definitely normal to disagree with an opposing point of view, but if you’re passionately resisting or judging a situation, it may be helpful to take a closer look. When you’re in an extreme emotional response to someone, something, a point of view, action, etc. you’re in danger of polarizing yourself. It’s difficult to think that we live in a dual universe, but there is no day without night, North without South, up without down, happiness without sadness, good without the bad, no shadow without light. But just to clarify, the process of shadow work is to move into a perceived dark or evil aspect that comes from our own ego, unlike a dark or evil occurrence on a grander, collective scale, like murder, treason, or acts against humanity. Those that are deemed dark or evil actions are usually collectively established by sniffing or feeling them out, and can, unfortunately, take large amounts of time to define. For example, the world was very slow to identify the negative impact of Nazi Germany, the Vietnam War, Slavery, Genocide, etc. These dark aspects of the collective are not necessarily what Jungian Shadow Work aims to uncover.
What is more primarily a focus is personal and ego-based shadows; those things that we perceive in ourselves and those close to us deeming them as bad or undesirable. For instance one mother may want to stay home with her children homeschooling and cooking nourishing meals for them as that is what her ego will identify as being a good mother. Another mother may take up a very demanding career and pay others to help raise her children because she feels being a good mother is someone who teaches her children the importance of sacrifice and hard work while ensuring their college fund is ready for them to embark on the same path one day. Both mothers are very different. From a lower conscious perspective, they may trigger or judge one another, and from a higher conscious perspective they can see they’re both one and the same: doing their best to be “good” mothers. This is particularly why painting a picture of a perceived enemy becomes so powerful and helpful in identifying where the shadow may be hiding. Is there someone or something in which you may be projecting fear and resistance unto? This scapegoat can be a source for a deeper conversation. What does this person embody and play out for you?
Identifying the Enemy
"Some people live out the socially acceptable side of life, while others seem to be living out the socially disowned parts and may be seen as the antagonist. When they become the object of negative group projections, the collective shadow will take on the form of scapegoating them into an enemy. This can be dangerous when seen in the context of religious wars, racial persecution, and economic greed. Anywhere where human beings attempt to dehumanize others in an effort to ensure they are the “good” ones wearing the white hats and will do anything in their power to eliminate the enemy, including the death of fellow human beings." -Meeting the Shadow
What's Under the Surface? Know Thyself.
The Ancient Greek aphorism "know thyself" means more than knowing who and what you think you are, or knowing what you like and don’t like. Knowing yourself can sometimes take an uncomfortable and unexpected trip into the depths of the unknown, the unconscious abyss where we spend a lot of our time and effort avoiding. Knowing thyself can sometimes mean knowing just how much effort and energy we may be putting into avoiding that part of ourselves we don’t want to face. That ugly part, the part we think will make us unlovable and unacceptable if we embody. That part of ourselves that was rejected either by our caregivers, or social community, or even ourselves in an effort to fit in and ensure our place in our tribe, sealing our perceived container of safety and security. Well, what if that perceived security, safety, well being, or that tribal acceptance was stripped from us, leaving us feeling vulnerable and questioning the course of our life that led to that uncomfortable and dark state we are presented with? This may leave us feeling there must be someone or something responsible for the circumstantial unraveling of our reality. Surely someone must be reprimanded for causing such chaos and misfortune.
“This meeting with oneself is, at first, the meeting with one’s own shadow. The shadow is a tight passage, a narrow door, whose painful constriction no one is spared who goes down to the deep well. But one must learn to know oneself in order to know who one is." -The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
Jungian Analyst Marie-Louise von Franz suggests that “projection is like shooting a magic arrow”. If the receiver holds an aspect of the energy as an untapped archetype they may actually resonate with that projection “linking them to the sender in a mysterious alliance like falling in love, discovering a perfect hero, or a perfect villain.” The qualities we deny in ourselves, casting them aside as completely unrelated to us and having absolutely no part of our reality with a strong aversion will assuredly show up on our doorstep in someone or something else close to us as a mirror of opportunity. That person who is so narcissistic as to not care about anyone or anything outside themselves may merely be a reflection of your own propensity to overcompensate by making sure to always present yourself as the good person, the most generous one in the room, the gold medal team player, the one who makes sure to put others first. Certainly nothing wrong with being an altruistic and generous person, but sometimes the source and the intention of that idealism is just the thing that needs to be looked at with a magnifying glass. What exactly is it that makes you want to be altruistic? Is it from a place of unconditional love, a place where you truly want others to feel safe and secure? Or is it from a very old and perhaps outdated conditioned response to a need you are feeling? You grew up meeting the needs of those around you to receive love and acceptance, and one day you realize that you are not receiving the same response to your efforts anymore, perhaps now leaving you feeling unappreciated, or even drained? Or maybe you pride yourself on being a very emotionally stable person, never feeling or showing anger, and in fact, you are repulsed by those that do demonstrate such a strong emotion and yet seem to manifest people around you that portray anger quite a bit. Were you taught at a young age that anger was absolutely unacceptable and that by no means were you allowed to show it, steering you in the direction of repressing that emotion and no longer identifying it in yourself when it shows up? Naturally, you can identify it in others and you most certainly do...with immense resistance. It's that excessive emotional overreaction to what you are experiencing that can give you a clue to what you may be experiencing as a shadow, not just something that doesn't belong to you or may not serve you anymore. Of course this may be a bit more challenging to navigate if you've trained yourself to temper your emotions across the board. Emotions can be powerful indicators and teachers so long as they’re used responsibly.
The same concept can be applied when denying one’s own ego. In The Shadow of the Enlightened Guru yoga philosopher Georg Feurstein writes about what happens to a guru’s shadow in the development of consciousness when they take a chosen path of “enlightenment” suggesting a resignation of one's ego. The ego then in turn becomes the shadow. The problem therein lies in the fact that the ego/ the shadow does not and cannot simply disappear. If the guru doesn’t learn to live alongside their own shadow, they may be prone to spiritual bypassing, manifesting the ego with great intensity within certain scenarios, or people around them showing up as the “phantom shadow” or “phantom ego” which may end up taking on a life of its own.
While some projections can be obvious and in line with the term “The pot calling the kettle black”, some aren’t rooted in a place of undesirable traits, but can also stem from a place of suppressed desire. Positive projections can appear when someone injects a halo effect onto someone close to them, seeing them as very kind-hearted and genuine. They can convince themselves that this person is someone to look up to and respect because of their huge heart or some other reason. This person may not be a bad person per se, but others just don’t see what this person sees. It is usually this person’s untapped desire to fully embody certain traits they unconsciously already actively possess.
"For what comes after the door is, surprisingly enough, a boundless expanse full of unprecedented uncertainty, with apparently no inside and no outside, no above and no below, no here and no there, no mine and no thine, no good and no bad." -The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
This is basically projection taken a step further and can be easily spotted within the dynamic of a serious or long term relationship. What happens when opposites attract? They begin to unconsciously play out the unexpressed and latent thoughts and feelings of their partner without realizing what is even happening. For example one person’s refusal to admit they need intimacy and closeness may show up in the other as a very emotionally demanding partner who does what they can to ensure they remain well connected. The more connected partner may in return depend on the more aloof partner to preserve a level of distance and autonomy between them that has become suppressed within themselves. For instance let’s say Kevin is more aloof and unable to express his need for intimacy to Suzy. The root of his block could be from very early conditioning where he had been emotionally dismissed by a parent, authority figure, or peers. He’s adopted that trait and therefore met Suzy, who believes in order to be a good partner there should be no boundaries drawn between herself and her mate ensuring a consistent level of closeness and intimacy. That is only a surface look of what is taking place. What’s happening under the surface is that Kevin is, in fact, pining for intimacy and affection and has no way of expressing it. And Suzy would absolutely love to have some autonomy and space to herself but thinks she may come off as a bad partner for expressing that. This becomes a codependent cat and mouse game where each person unconsciously looks to the other person to play out the trait(s) within themselves that remains unacceptable and unexpressed to the ego. This happens between very intimate or long term partnerships, like marriages because the people in those relationships have reached the point of enmeshment where the boundaries between them blur. It's often difficult to know where the space of one’s head stops and the other begins, so now the couple is doing a dance in the dark; a shadow dance. Because not everyone likes to dance, they may choose to separate, returning to the solace of their own mental space. This may be why couple’s counseling with someone who is versed in shadow work can be particularly helpful.
So what happens when you grow up hearing something enough that you internalize it as truth? Jennifer grew up very astute and observant, always taking in her environment before deciding to engage with it. People would tell her constantly that she was so shy, to the point that she believed she was a shy person and fully embodied those traits. She would be very anxious in social situations because of her perceived shyness, feeling very debilitated at times. It wasn’t until much later in life that she became conscious of the fact she was actually tuning into her environment so much because she wanted to assure she could mold herself and her energy to the expectations and needs of those around her. She realized she was placing the needs of others before herself, just as she was taught to do growing up, and took that so literally she used the thoughts and opinions of others to mold herself into what was projected onto her. After she brought these unconscious shadow aspects to the light, she turned into a gregarious person, relinquishing her concern about the comfort, opinions and judgement of others.
It is the world of water…..where I am indivisibly this and that; where I experience the other in myself and the other-than-myself experiences me.” -The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
Love Your Demons
The problems we face with others can come back to yourself. Could the times that our refusal to face something through distraction, denial, or projection have been a missed opportunity to shift and grow? What do you run away from or resist in fear and judgment? Chances are there’s a small part of yourself that may identify with something you still can’t truly see. The key lies in integrating the shadow, making us more whole. Lean into the fear, allow an alchemization process to help shift it with the power of intention. Loving every aspect of your being and especially the parts of ourselves we deem unacceptable will bring integration and wholeness. The idea is to shed light on those things that live in the dark then love them to death...literally love them until they no longer have a life of their own. This makes it so having compassion for others and staying out of destructive victimization patterns becomes a seamless process. If we can be objective and see our maligned thinking without judging ourselves as higher or lower, good or bad, remaining open-hearted and willing to evolve and change, then we can profoundly shift the quality of our life, and the life of others. Stay Well. Stay Conscious.