Understanding human shadow - ticking bomb or superpower?
Updated: Nov 22, 2019
Did you know awareness is structured in particular ways and that nothing about our conscious is random? If you’ve been following my articles lately, you’ll know that I’ve been writing about self-sabotage and the ways it manifests in our lives. However, there’s an underlying aspect of self-sabotage that is rarely discussed in our professional context and more specifically, people’s performance. I’m referring to personal “shadow” – veiled subconscious patterns that operate outside awareness, yet have tremendous influence over how we function on a daily basis.
In the field of psychology, shadow is a term used to refer to any part of our identity that we try to hide or deny. Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, described shadow as the unknown dark side of the personality, consisting of negative human impulses and emotions, such as desire, rage, envy, selfishness, greed, and quests for power. Because we tend to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of our personalities, shadow is often perceived to be negative. When ignored, it can hurt us and even damage our relationships with colleagues, partners, family and friends. However, there can also be inherent positive qualities that remain hidden in shadow, and when acknowledged and ‘embodied’, can be a source of emotional richness and vitality – a pathway to healing and a more authentic life.
“There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection.” Carl Jung ‘Psychology and Alchemy’
The ancient Greeks understood the importance of honouring all parts of the psyche, worshipping these parts as autonomous gods and goddesses. They believed a god or goddess you ignored was the one who turned against you and destroyed you. Likewise, any aspect of our identity that is repressed or ignored has the potential to turn against us, resulting in all manner of problems, including addiction, low-self-esteem, mental illness, and various neuroses. Consider that when we deny our ‘darker’ less acceptable personality traits, often the best parts of us become entangled and repressed as well. It’s like being permanently stuck in ‘power save mode’, thus limiting the instincts and extraordinary potential we are born with.
So, how can we access and embody the positive qualities of our dark side? Over the coming weeks, I’ll explore shadow work from different perspectives to help you better understand, reconcile and integrate. Importantly, shadow work isn’t a ‘band-aid’ or fast-track to one’s ideal transformation. However, it can help us repair, heal and grow on a mental, emotional and spiritual level. Start by paying attention to the emotions you feel and any recurrent ‘darker’ thoughts you experience. For example, ‘I am flawed, ‘I am unloveable, ‘my feelings are not valid’, ‘why can’t I be normal like other people’, ‘I must take care of everyone around me’, ‘no one will come for me’, and so on.
Poet Robert Bly describes the situation perfectly in ‘A Little Book of the Human Shadow’ as a child who puts all of the unwanted aspects of identity into an invisible bag and drags it behind him. We all have an invisible bag. What’s in yours? What are you dragging around?
Until next time,