Understanding Our Shadow

“There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection.” 

– Carl Jung

The shadow is a psychological term from Jungian analytical psychology that refers to the things we cannot see in ourselves. The shadow is unconscious and generally viewed as the “dark side” of our personality because it consists of negative characteristics, emotions, and impulses like rage, greed, and selfishness.

Our personal shadow begins to develop in childhood and consists of everything we find unacceptable and deny in ourselves, largely based on the family values and social character that influences what we perceive as good and acceptable or bad and undesirable. The qualities that we perceive as inconsistent with our view of ourselves become relegated to our shadow and are thereby largely unconscious. 

Over time, we build our identity around a shadow as it becomes the other side of our personality coin. If we value being active and efficient, we reject being lazy and repress or relegate any potential sense of ourselves as lazy to our shadow. If we value being kind, calm, and generous, we reject being angry, reactive, or selfish, and so on. 

Jungian analytical psychology views the discovery and integration of our shadow as an essential task on the road to psychological wholeness. Exploring our shadow can lead to greater authenticity, creativity, energy, and higher consciousness. 

However, it not easy to confront our shadow. First, it can be very difficult to see our shadow without the help of others. Second, it can be even more difficult to admit and acknowledge our shadow to ourselves. After all, these are the parts of ourselves that we have psychologically disavowed as not us. Nevertheless, if we can bring these sequestered parts of our personality to light, we will find ourselves less easily triggered and more connected with an authentic sense of self.   

There are several ways we can begin to understand our shadow. Carl Jung famously said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”  

We can apply this to ourselves as we monitor our reactions to others. Often, what irritates us about others is also a part of ourselves that we have repressed in our shadow. Likewise, it is helpful to notice when we unintentionally make other people feel uncomfortable. When we get feedback from others about how our tone of voice or other behavior impacted them negatively without our knowledge, we can get another glimpse into our shadow. Lastly, we can monitor how we feel when our opinions or beliefs are challenged.  

Generally, any uncommonly strong feelings and reactions can be a door into our shadow. When our shadow remains unconscious and we do not become aware of these unwanted aspects of our personality, we frequently project them onto others. Examples of this are all around us as we navigate the day and witness people gossip or speak poorly about others. For example, “They are so concerned with how they look,” “He never gets to work on time,” or in the things we say, such as, “I can’t stand their hypocritical views.” Often, there is some element of the shadow in what is being projected and put onto others as a means of avoiding it in ourselves or disarming our anxiety about the potential truth of our less desirable characteristics and behaviors. 

We all have a shadow. When we open ourselves to our shadow, we are opening ourselves to our humanity and allowing greater space for self-compassion. We are also allowing ourselves a greater sense of wholeness and the opportunity to gain greater self-awareness. Furthermore, we are less likely to be triggered by the world around us. We are also less likely to engage in projection and therefore less likely to amplify the faults of others as a means of ridding ourselves of our own unwanted qualities.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com

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Published by tlindquistpsyd

Psychologist

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