If the ancients were right that darkness contains intelligence and nourishment and even information, then the person who has eaten some of his or her shadow is more energetic as well as more intelligent. — Bly
The Ego, being highly selective in how it processes information, tends to either deny or defend. Hence, ‘you are in denial’ or ‘you are being defensive’, are terms we are fond of throwing at people, or have had thrown back at us, from time to time. Freud believed that the unconscious is made up entirely of repressed stuff. Basically, containing everything that the Ego – the center of of our conscious mind – rejects or represses. The town dump, so to speak. And we tend to treat it as such. A dumping ground. A dung heap of all the things we don’t like about our ‘selves’ or others. But this is not the half of of what is going on ‘down there’.
Freud’s understanding of the unconscious expresses what is now termed the “personal unconscious”, but Jung theorized the existence of what he calls the “collective unconscious” which contains material we – all humans – are born with (Frager and Fadiman 64). While Freud saw dreams as being nothing more than repressed Ego material leaking out of the unconscious, Jung recognized that dreams often contained content not ‘learned’ or ‘experienced’ by the individual. And so do myths and fairy tales.
Shadow archetypes in stories are pretty easy to pick out of a line up: trolls, witches, wolves, giants, etc. The Shadow archetype is the ‘bad guy’, opposed to the Ego/Self archetype, the ‘good guy’, right? But, there are many stories with less obvious Shadow content. Stories like “The Little Match Girl”- poor girl burns all her matches instead of selling them and dies from the cold- and “The Red Shoes”- overly ambitious ballerina makes a ‘deal with the devil’ for a pair of ballet slippers that she cannot remove, and so dances herself to death.
The [Jung’s] Shadow is an archetypal form that serves as the focus for material that has been repressed from consciousness; its content include tendencies, desires, and memories rejected by the individual as incompatible with the Persona and contrary to social standards and ideals…as well as animal instincts, and undeveloped positive and negative qualities (69).
If we tend to identify with our Persona and Ego, we will view the Shadow as something loathsome or abhorrent, much the way some of us may view natural bodily functions as being gross, or dirty. But, if we have the capacity to embrace, or at least accept, the less savory things about ourselves, we will find the Shadow as being not only necessary as a natural bodily function, but a source of intuitive strength. Modern Jungians talk about something called the “light shadow”: positive qualities within the Shadow, yet rejected or seen as “incompatible” by our perception of our selves ( 70). The goal here, then is to regain and reintegrate repressed material, but more importantly, to discover and activate the latent potentialities within us: instinctual energy, spontaneity, vitality, and creative energies.
So, how do we deal this stuff? How do we live with it? How do we integrate it? The things we hate about ourselves. The things that hurt us. The things that haunt, or even threaten to ‘kill’ us at times. I will leave you with Jung’s thoughts on the matter:
It is a very difficult and important question, what you call the technique of dealing with the Shadow. There is, as a matter of fact, no technique at all, inasmuch as technique means that there is a known and perhaps even prescribable way to deal with a certain difficulty or task. It is rather a dealing comparable to diplomacy or statesmanship. There is, for instance, no particular technique that would help us to reconcile to political parties opposing each other…If one can speak of a technique at all, it consists solely in an attitude. First of all, one has to accept and to take seriously into account the existence of the Shadow. Secondly, it is necessary to be informed about its qualities and intentions. Thirdly, long and difficult negotiations will be unavoidable…Nobody can know what the final outcome of such negotiations will be. One only knows that through careful collaboration the problem itself becomes changed. Very often certain apparently impossible intentions of the Shadow are mere threats due to an unwillingness on the part of the Ego to enter a serious consideration of the Shadow. Such threats diminish usually when one meets them seriously. (Jung as quoted in Frager and Fadiman 710)
Thank for reading.
Frager, Robert and James Fadiman. Personality and Personal Growth, 6th Ed. Pearson. 2005.