Opposites. A basic theorem of Jungian psychology is that for everything we know about ourselves—beliefs, values, attitudes, emotions—there is a corresponding unconscious opposite. This is because we see everything in terms of either-or, good-bad, and automatically disown and repress the less desirable option.
For example, your family stressed the importance of love and kindness. Growing up you emulated these values and were affirmed for it. You think of yourself as a kind and loving person. Yet, there have been times when you were filled with anger and hate and your good intentions flew out the window. Nevertheless, because being anything less than “good” according to your family’s standards doesn’t fit your image of yourself, you’ve justified your “lapses.” After all, you know how hard you try, how well-meaning you are, so it had to have been the other person’s fault. You were right/good, so they were wrong/bad. Right?
But, guess what. Your “negative” emotions and thoughts don’t go away just because you deny or ignore them. They merely sink beneath your conscious awareness to a place where your ego can’t see them. We call this dark realm the unconscious. As your ego is the center of your conscious self, your shadow is the center of your unconscious self. Since you’re a reasonable person, your ego is probably willing to admit to a few shadow qualities here and there. But for every “flaw” you acknowledge, there are many others of which you have no conscious knowledge.
Projection. This leads to a second basic theorem of Jungian psychology: Whatever we disown in ourselves we project onto others. Those onto whom we project our shadow have a “flaw” similar to one of our own. Jungians say they have a “hook” onto which we can hang a disowned quality of our shadow. The hook can be a minor personality trait that can be easily overlooked or a major one that consistently causes problems for them and others. Either way, we are easily offended by people who remind us of our shadow. This gives us a simple way to see our shadows if we’re willing to look, and provides us with a handy scapegoat if we’re not.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” ~Carl Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections, Page 247.
Entropy. A third psychological reality Jung stressed is that when opposites remain isolated from one another, any disorder lurking within them remains constant or increases. Thus, the longer we ignore our shadow, the more apt it is to cause trouble. Refusing to acknowledge it when it shows up is therefore not only psychologically ignorant, but dangerous. Unfortunately, the Western world does not recognize the shadow, either in individuals or in collective consciousness, and our ignorance perpetuates our prejudices, hypocrisy, broken relationships, self-righteousness, crime, war, and destruction of our planet.
“Only an infantile person can pretend that evil is not at work everywhere, and the more unconscious he is, the more the devil drives him. It is just because of this inner connection with the black side of things that it is so incredibly easy for the mass man to commit the most appalling crimes without thinking. Only ruthless self-knowledge on the widest scale, which sees good and evil in correct perspective and can weigh up the motives of human action, offers some guarantee that the end-result will not turn out too badly.” ~Carl Jung, Aion, ¶ 255.
This election season has pitted two candidates who couldn’t be more different against one another. Never, in the history of our country, has the divide between two potential presidents been wider. Never have so many citizens of the United States or the world been so shaken by this ugly polarization. Never has the collective shadow of America been so obvious to all.
Beneath all our conscious beliefs and rationalizations we are being influenced by our shadows. The less self-aware among us are defending the candidate who most represents their ego’s self-image and who promises to serve their self-interest; and they are projecting evil onto the “other” candidate and anyone else who carries hooks for their repressed shadows.
“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Pages 236-237.