“. . . today most people cannot see the beam in their own eye but are all too well aware of the mote in their brother’s. Political propaganda exploits this primitivity and conquers the naive with their own defect. The only defence (sic) against this overwhelming danger is recognition of the shadow.” ~Carl Jung
Creating a persona, or social mask, to gain acceptance from our family and groups is normal. Being accepted as part of a group is important to us, especially during adolescence, and usually well beyond. But problems arise when we grow into adulthood believing our persona is the whole story about who we are. It isn’t. Life isn’t just about what you see; it’s also what you don’t see.
Psychological realities have energy. When we deny them honest expression they become like weeds that find their way out through cracks in the foundations of our personalities. My father’s death created a crack in my psyche and I turned to religion to heal it. But instead of finding a loving Father God to keep me safe, my religion’s shadow, a judgmental God of retribution, crept in through the crack. The more I sided with and tried to emulate a gentle, forgiving god-image, the more power my punishing god-image acquired until it became an overly scrupulous spiritual bully.
My spiritual bully usually shows up in my dreams as mean, critical men, but I have occasionally dreamed of a hostile female authority figure. Once she was a Russian policewoman who tried to throw acid on my face. I knew these characters must represent something in me, but I couldn’t see how they showed up in my waking life. After a while I realized that sometimes I had negative thoughts about myself, and once in a while I could see how these thoughts brought me down and sapped my energy. But it took years of dreamwork before I knew my bully for what he is: the strategy of a fearful child trying to protect myself from more trauma. After all, my inner Orphan must have reasoned, if I punish myself, maybe God won’t punish me again!
To gain approval from the “good” God of my religion, I decided to be good too. Adopting a “good girl” persona required me to repress any “badness.” But instead of going away, some of my repressed qualities merged into a spiritual bully. My bully thought he was doing me a favor and I believed him. We thought self-criticism was good for me. We thought constant vigilance to root out the tiniest infraction would build character and keep me humble!
Perhaps it did in some ways, but in other ways this habit of negative self-thinking had the opposite effect. Constant reminders of your flaws hurt. If I’ve been feeling self-critical and someone adds to my pain by saying something hurtful, I forget that when other people hurt me it’s all about them. In this vulnerable state my Orphan can break through my persona. I know she’s arrived when I start feeling sorry for myself. Wisdom and compassion fly out the window and I feel a childish resentment. I can feel superior, self-righteous, and yes, critical. I can be thoughtless, insensitive, unsympathetic. I can be a spiritual bully.
We need to see these things because we don’t just hurt ourselves when we blanket our shadows (everything we disown about ourselves) under thick, impenetrable layers. We also hurt others. Because the longer we ignore our own darkness, the more power it acquires to become the very opposite of who our masks proclaim us to be. Thus, self-righteousness and mean-spiritedness thrive beneath Church Lady’s piety; manipulation and control fester under the martyr’s mask; self-pity, sadness and depression hide behind the clown’s face; fear and powerlessness feed the excessive violence of warriors and terrorists; and lustful desires torment those who would be obsessively chaste and pure.
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.”~Carl Jung
The Western world does not recognize the shadow as a powerful entity in every individual. Most of us will admit to certain flaws, but there are others we simply cannot see. We can easily see our most despised qualities in others, and are usually happy to point them out, but rarely can we admit to their presence in us.
This is not just psychologically ignorant, but dangerous. Our inability to understand and accept our personal and cultural shadows is the reason for our prejudices, hypocrisy, thoughtlessness, cruelty, broken relationships, crime, genocide, terrorism, imperialism, war, and destruction of our environment. The only lasting contribution I as an individual can make to world health and planetary peace is to know my own shadow well enough to restrain it without projecting more darkness into a world that already has enough to destroy us all.
Politicians take note: Killing dragons in the outer world will never free humanity from terrorism and tyranny. The only lasting solution is for each of us to make peace with the enemy within. Everyone has the power to do that.
This video is from my new YouTube series called Dreams as Guides to Self Discovery. You can find the entire 5-part series here on my blog (on the above right of this page,) on my website , and at this link: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLMS7ZEV9HgLz1wuOVOCkDrLx6YR7ZfQSU Or simply google Youtube, Jean Raffa.
I am grateful to you, Jean, for allowing me to see some of Judaism’s profound ideas about human nature refracted through the prism of Jung’s thought
Thank you, Stephen. I felt the same gratitude toward you when I read your piece on the holy day of, I believe it was Purim, in which you wrote about the necessity for reflecting on your thoughts and actions over the past year. I wish every religion had a special day for that. What a help it would be to make people more self-aware and repentant for the hurts they have caused. It ought to be taught in schools too, and parenting classes, etc! It’s such an essential aspect of our psychological and spiritual development toward maturity, and the majority of humanity is still so clueless about it. Blessings to you during this season in which we all celebrate the gift of new life and light. Jeanie
Thank you Jeanie for this powerful post. More and more urgently, we each need to confront our own shadows instead of projecting them out there and, as you say, onto a world that already has enough darkness that can destroy us (I’m paraphrasing). It’s the least – and the most – that we can do …
I look forward to catching up on the videos. Thank you again.
Many thanks, Susan, I love your observation that “It’s the least – and the most – that we can do…” Beautifully said, and so true. I’ve appreciated your many thoughtful comments to my pieces over the last year. Thank you for that, and may you enjoy blessed holy days.
Jeanie, So grateful for this most illuminating post. How easy it is to forget that when people criticize you it’s all about them. And how true that we all must make peace with the enemy within. Thanks to you for sharing your wisdom.
Thank you, Enid. It’s lovely hearing from you. Yes, and the more pain we are in, the easier it gets to forget about other people’s pain. We all share this easy forgetfulness of the sacred significance of others. I believe the only antidote to it is a regular practice of self-reflection, for only by acquiring compassion for our own foibles can we acquire compassion for others. Blessings during these holy days of returning light and life. Jeanie
An excellent and timely piece; thank you for writing about how our shadow manifests in the “real world.” I read an interesting article this week that proves the value of each of us doing our inner work and becoming more aware of why we react the way we do. In the article, it says how “terror management theory says that when people are reminded of their mortality — especially if the reminder doesn’t register consciously, as happens after a brutal act of terror — they will more readily enforce their cultural worldviews. If our cultural worldview is xenophobic, nationalistic or moralistic, we are prone to become more so.” So, if we aren’t even aware of where our views come from (our shadows, our inner worlds), how can we see the effect upon the outer world around us? (the article is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/06/opinion/sunday/how-terror-hardens-us.html )
Thank you, Darla,
This subject is so dear to my heart. Partly because I know how difficult it has been for me to be more conscious of my shadow and how it shows up in my life, and partly because recognizing my shadow has improved my life so dramatically. But also because I know the shadow’s flaws and fears are the psychological roots of our, and the world’s, problems. Why haven’t we humans with all our accumulated knowledge and evolved intelligence managed to create world peace yet, even though that’s been the primary goal of so many of us throughout history? Because we can’t recognize or manage our shadows in peaceful ways, and this is true both of individuals and of the collective consciousness of nations.
And yes, fear, and I would also add pain, do indeed influence us to reinforce our cultural worldviews. We’re like farmers hearing a lone wolf howling in the distance who get up in the middle of the night and pick up our guns and head out to reinforce our fences and the henhouse walls with grim determination. We have to defend our property and our perspective at all costs or we may not survive without them. So our fear and hatred of wolves becomes so morbid and obsessive that we meet with similar-minded frightened farmers and come up with a plan to eradicate every wolf within a thousand miles. It’s no wonder disenfranchised, poverty-stricken and hungry people are more apt to be attracted to radical beliefs and actions: reminders of their mortality sit with them every day and constantly feed their fear.
Which brings up another point I didn’t discuss in this piece, which is that befriending your shadow includes coming to terms with your fear of death. Again, it’s no wonder most people avoid inner work. What they fail to consider is that it’s our ego’s desperate fear of its mortality that causes us to succumb to addictions and obsessions of all kinds, things that have the potential to kill us far sooner that a normal death would in an average life span.
Thank you so much for providing the link to this article! It’s wonderful. We need to hear more about this issue at this crucial juncture in the history of humanity.
Holiday blessings, Jeanie
Beautifully put, Jeanie. (((BIGHUG))) and Holiday Blessings to you, also!
Dear Jeanie, as the Winter Solstice approaches I find myself (even more than usual!) in a deeply reflective mood. I am so pleased to have rediscovered your blog. I did briefly touch base with you a year or so back but in preparing my poetry book for publication my hours were entirely taken over. However, I did have the good fortune to order your latest book ‘Healing the Sacred Divide’ before getting into full swing ‘editing’ mode.
When the writing came, it came fast and furious and consumed me for many months. Then one summer’s day, in early August, the windstorm passed, I left the poetry site I was writing on and set up a small solitary camp fire here in the blogosphere. I did not know what to expect, I had never written a blog before … it was then that I remembered and refound you. “Whatever is lost will be found” – Jeanette Winterson, The Gap of Time.
The warm, heart-felt conversations I have shared with you since have been remarkable, and most insightful. Even though you are many years late, I am so glad to have found you. Yours is an exquisite gift. I am truly grateful for the loving kindness and compassion you so willingly give others, asking nothing in return. I did not plan to write this, I planned to write about your post then my mind got hi-jacked and I’m glad for it … as sometimes you have to accept that your heart knows what to do. Warm winter wishes, Deborah.
What you have written is exactly what I needed to hear today, dear Deborah. Your heart did, indeed, know what to do, and to my heart your words taste like warm drops of soothing honey. The same nourishing intuition and wisdom permeate your poetry as well.
Thank you for reading my book. And thank you for remembering me. I’m so glad you found me too!
This is my Winter Solstice blessing for you: As you write around your solitary camp fire in the years to come, may you be visited by countless readers whose words and spirits are as generous and comforting to you as yours have been to me.
Warm winter wishes, Jeanie
Thank you for this, Jeanie. I’m forever grateful to my first meditation teacher for knowing his students needed psychology. He wanted us to understand projection so we wouldn’t label him “Wise Man” or “guru,” which we did anyway, but the first work was understanding the concept of Shadow. That idea began my love affair with Jung and brought a sliver of light into my darkness along with techniques to be used for a lifetime, I learned to identify a physical sensation, a contracting sinking belly, a defensive desire to escape that accompanied a shadow poke that hit close to home. This doesn’t mean I had a handle on my shadow then or even now, I projected shadow on my mother-in-law for over forty years. Of course, it was her fault. Ask her, and it was mine. The difference was I knew what was happening even when I couldn’t erase my inner reaction. That bit of consciousness made it possible to not act out in response to her accusations. She tested and taught me. This last year, her 99th, her angry poking stopped. I’m glad I stuck around to experience this healing for both of us.
How we do learn this as a culture? I have no idea. There is fascination with everything shadow. I just read that the horror genre is the most lucrative book market. I think you’ve expressed the only possibility. Educate ourselves and hope to pass a little understanding along.
Deborah -refinding you must be the way she and I connected, too. Good fortune all around.
And thank you back, Elaine. How incredibly fortunate you were to have a meditation teacher who knew his students needed psychology. I’ve always wished I had a minister or priest who understood that. Sadly, I never found one, and that significantly delayed my psycho-spiritual growth. I was 47 before I understood the inherent connection between psychological and spiritual growth and I’ve been trying to catch up ever since.
I totally understand and sympathize with your inability to remove your shadow projections onto your mother-in-law even though you knew better. I’ve had a similar problem with a family member, though not nearly as difficult as yours. Knowing something does not change the heart. Only personal experience can do that.
Your observation that the horror genre is the most lucrative book market is fascinating. Maybe you and I should turn to writing horror novels as a way to get our messages across!
Yes, I’m pretty sure Deborah found you through me. Good fortune, indeed.
In the words and wisdom of Marion Woodman, “I will continue to go where my soul is recognised.” Love and blessings to you both dear friends.
Thank you for this Jeanie. I really appreciated the insights you wrote about yourself that others (well, me) can relate to in terms of similar experience. I love that idea of Life is also what you don’t see. This is like an enormous lighthouse blasting rays in my thoughts right now. I was able to twig into this video more easily than the last two (I started backwards). Maybe I’m at the ‘shadow’ part of discovery of psyche. In any event this was very insightful and I’m already looking forward to watching it again. Thoughts about perfection in terms of creating art. This dovetails with recent thoughts about not ‘overworking’ things. Something in between a fullness of vision and a perfectly fine amount of completion. I’m wondering now how often one (okay, me) tries to make the perfect ‘jewel box’ (we’ll say) when actually a rougher form could have even more energy. Much food for thought!
I’m smiling at your powerful image of an enormous lighthouse blasting rays in your thoughts! I suppose for an artist like you, thinking in images like this is a constant occurrence, but to me it’s more unusual. Fortunately for my writing, dream images sometimes remind me of the value of seeing and expressing myself this way.
Starting at the end of my video series on dreams and working backwards is certainly a novel approach. I’m wondering if it’s as effective, or perhaps even more effective, than starting at the beginning……. My first thought was that it might be off-putting since the Self is the most complex and difficult archetype to understand. On the other hand, trying to wrap your head around that might make it easier to understand the significance of the others…. I’d be interested in your thoughts on this.
Thoughts about perfection…. in my mind, perfection as a goal is a ‘masculine’ (I don’t mean male) goal. Certainly we see it presented as an ideal in patriarchal religions which emphasize our ‘masculine’ specialty of left-brain thinking while diminishing the imaginative, boundary-pushing, soul enhancing faculty of our right brains. Seeing my perfectionist shadow in the dream featured in this video was a revelation to me because I recognized it as a symptom of my own over-valuation of Logos over Mythos. By the time I had this dream I knew that obsessiveness in either direction fed dysfunction, so I began to redirect my thinking to the ‘feminine’ goal of completion. This has been most helpful to my overall development.
Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Steven. They are always food for my thoughts.
And thank you Jeanie for this wonderful reply. I plan on watching the video series again from the beginning.