How Will Your Shadow Shape the Future of Our World?


the_good_and_evil_angels_tate_blake“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular. ~Carl Jung, CW 13: Alchemical Studies, par 335. 

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.

webb_sending_out_the_scapegoatProjection. 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.

images-2“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.

The only lasting contribution any of us can make to world health and planetary peace is to know our own shadow well enough to restrain it without projecting more darkness into a world that already has enough to destroy us all. One pair of opposites has the power to determine our fate. Love is the most powerful healing and unifying force in life. Hate is the most divisive and destructive.

images-4Hating our shadow and seeing it in others instead of ourselves will set us on a path of conflict and destruction. Owning our shadow will activate compassion, ethical behavior, wholeness and enlightened consciousness.Will we choose to see and befriend our shadow and the people who carry it, thereby serving love? Or will we choose to ignore our inner darkness and hate the people who remind us of it?

Which way will your vote go?

 Image Credits: The Good and Evil Angels, Blake, Wikimedia Commons. Sending Out the Scapegoat, Wikimedia Commons. Witch Hunt, Wikimedia Commons. The Red Button, Wikimedia Commons.

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.

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11 Responses

  1. Thanks Jeanie – would that we were able to hold the tension and transcend those opposites; I guess to acknowledge firstly, i.e. that we ALL contain them. One of the greatest gifts I’ve found is to delve into the depths of my shadow so that light can be put upon them and that I feel the effects of moving from a one-sidedness. The log is slowly removed from my own eye so that I can see more clearly, both on an individual and collective level.
    I love the quotes thank you.
    I’m loving your book ‘Healing the Sacred Divide – Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other, and the World’. It is so beautiful, thank you.

  2. Yes, self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-restraint are the ultimate solutions to the shadow, but I expect we’re still a long way from that being the norm. Still, it’s one thing we can all do.
    I’m glad you love the quotes, and gladder still that you’re loving my book. 🙂 Thank you.

  3. From over this side of the pond, there seems only one candidate who understands the concept of compassion and ethical behaviour while the other sees it all in the context of self-interest. As I’ve said before I have issues with Clinton and don’t feel convinced on her new stance on TTIP amongst other things. Her calling Trump supporters a ‘basket of deplorables ” was a mistake, falling into the same us v them mindset that Trump loves.
    My real worry is for the election after this when a charming smiling articulate person comes along espousing all that Trump currently does and the republicans win bigtime.
    Here’s a thought, what if the candidate we disliked most as a personality was the one least likely to lead us into an unnecessary war?
    What I’m trying to say I suppose is although a vote has to be cast, let’s not put all our eggs in one basket of deplorables either way!

    1. I hear you, Brian and agree. I have no way of knowing if my preference is the best choice for us in the short run. Nobody does. Moreover, the collective unconscious will have its way regardless of who I want to win.
      But as a woman who grew up in this patriarchal culture and experienced many variations of its ingrained misogyny and repression I have to go with what my heart and mind have been telling me ever since I woke up to the injustice and mean-spiritedness of it. I want to see more love and genuine caring for people, no matter how diverse or vulnerable or disenfranchised or ignorant they may be. I see having a woman president, especially this eminently qualified woman with a very impressive track record, as an extremely important step for our country and world in that direction. And I believe it’s one that will make a huge healthy difference in the long run.
      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. We are in great need of more honest, dispassionate dialogue regarding this election. 🙂

    2. Sadly, Brian, regardless of how you slice it, it appears to me that the Republicans want to jump into new wars come what may. Suggesting that DT is “least likely to lead us into an unnecessary war,” whether true or not, does not mean the person in the Oval Office could hold back that tide, especially if it’s a red tide (of blood) intended to enrich the military/industrial complex that put him into office. It seems to me that some of our leaders have awakened to the fact that we must allow these other societies to individuate in their own good time, because forcing democracy on them clearly does not work and costs us dearly. They must find their own balance, and they are far from doing that now. While I appreciate the spirit of what you are saying, it seems to me a bit pollyanna-ish to think that DT could or would hold back such a red tide. Only time will tell if the choice of Hillary for President is the correct one.

  4. From the beginning of this election season (agonizing as it has been), I’ve looked forward to voting for Hillary Clinton. I’m grateful for Bernie Sander’s contribution and believe his political influence will continue in a Clinton administration. I was in the fortunate position of feeling positive about two candidates. This isn’t just about the presidency, It’s about Supreme Court and other federal judges, many appointments and department leaders. The president is a symbolic figure, as well as a political position. Hillary Clinton has proved herself presidential over and over again. I don’t see her as flawless. Not at all. I see her as capable and open to learning. I never imagined I’d vote for a woman president in my lifetime. I didn’t imagine I’d vote for a woman candidate I admire as much as Clinton whose values I’ve shared since the 1970s. I have to be grateful to Trump, too, although I choke on those words. He revealed the dark underbelly of his political party and of patriarchy. Trump has done us a big favor, since we can’t transform the darkness when it stays personally or collectively hidden.

    1. Thank you, Elaine. Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. My thoughts exactly.
      In reference to your being grateful to Trump, I can also add one thought. The other night I dreamed he lent Fred and me and a lovely young man a penthouse apartment to stay in for a week. I never saw him in the dream, but was just aware he had done this and was surprised by his generosity. In the dream the thought occurred to me that he was no more the “devil” than Clinton. In fact, he actually had a generous side. To see only either one’s dark or light side and refuse to acknowledge its opposite is as one-sided as our patriarchal government has been.
      Another interesting aspect of this dream was that there were two large spaces in the apartment separated by pocket doors: an outer public room that was very bright and light, and a darkened inner private room, my bedroom. Light and dark: that’s who we all are.
      The two lessons in this for me were 1) that my negative animus (who hasn’t shown up in my dreams in a long time, by the way, but is always there, nonetheless) also has a positive side that I haven’t seen before, and 2) that I need a more open-minded, balanced awareness in my dealings with and judgment of others as well as myself.

      1. I haven’t had the pleasure of dreaming about Trump, but this week I’m posting a pro-Clinton blog. I’ll see how the unconscious responds to that. Yes, I’m sure he has a “light” side and demonizing him isn’t helpful. He’s a bit pathetic at the moment as he faces loss. Interesting dream lighting and design with so much meaning.

  5. Good luck with your post about Clinton. I’ve found it very difficult to write my posts about the election and look forward to reading yours.

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