Four Ways to Work With Your Shadow


Unfortunately, there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it…But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected. (The Wisdom of Carl Jung, p. 60.)

If the repressed tendencies, the shadow as I call them, were obviously evil, there would be no problem whatever. But the shadow is merely somewhat inferior, primitive, unadapted, and awkward; not wholly bad. It even contains childish or primitive qualities which would, in a way, vitalize and embellish human existence, but—convention forbids. (The Wisdom of Carl Jung, p. 60.)

Most people I follow on social media are interested in psychology, especially Jungian psychology. One particularly hot topic in this time of political divisiveness in which hostility and bitterness approach epidemic levels, is the shadow. Our shadows create conflicts within and without. I long for peace, kindness, and harmony. I want to know how I contribute to the disturbing spirit of our time. I want to correct the aspects of my shadow that wound and cause distress. People like me want the same. In that spirit I offer four tips on how to work with your shadow.

1. Learn about your personality type. Taking the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment at the age of 38 was a life-changer for me. Not only did it help me understand and accept my tendencies to think and act in certain ways, it also made me more aware of my shadow. Jung said the shadow is:

“…a personality component usually with a negative sign. This ‘inferior’ personality is made up of everything that will not fit in with, and adapt to, the laws and regulations of conscious life. … [T]here is at least one function in it which ought to collaborate in orienting consciousness. Or rather, this function does collaborate, not for the benefit of conscious, purposive intentions, but in the interests of unconscious tendencies pursuing a different goal. It is this…’inferior’ function which acts autonomously towards consciousness and cannot be harnessed to the latter’s intentions.” (Jung, 1969, Psychology and Religion: West and East).  

The MBTI says I’m an INFJ.  Here’s how one website describes the strengths of this type, sometimes called the Mentor, sometimes The Counselor: “INFJs are creative nurturers with a strong sense of personal integrity and a drive to help others realize their potential. Creative and dedicated, they have a talent for helping others with original solutions to their personal challenges.”

As an INFJ, my conscious cognitive functions are opposed by a strong unconscious function called extraverted intuition. This inferior function manifests in defensiveness, anger, or stubbornness when people don’t see things my way. A second inferior function is called introverted feeling. This causes me to doubt and suppress my true feelings and criticize myself for perceived mishaps. My awareness of these tendencies helps me recognize and correct them when they manifest in my attitudes and actions.

2. Listen to and take seriously the criticisms and complaints that people who care about you have about you. INFJs are well-intentioned, scrupulous people who want to be helpful. But I, like everyone else, have a shadow which goes against my conscious intentions. So sometimes, my desire to help backfires on me.

For example, years ago over dinner on a family vacation I thought I was being helpful by gently pointing out a manifestation of a problematic shadow I recognized in one of my loved ones. I assumed they’d be as glad to understand their shadow as I was to understand mine. But they weren’t. My fault, right? When it became obvious that I couldn’t see how I’d contributed to the ensuing conflict, my daughter leaned over and quietly murmured, “Mother, not everyone wants to understand their shadow!” That’s an insight I’ll never forget.

Another time I offered to help a family member prepare a meal in my kitchen, but my offer was rejected. When I asked why, without a touch of attitude they said calmly and frankly, “Because you’re bossy.” What I saw as being helpful, they saw as intrusive and perhaps even implicitly critical of their efforts. Could’ve knocked me over with a feather! At one time I would have been deeply hurt and offended by comments like these which I would have considered completely unfair. Now I let them go because I see them as constructive criticism I would do well to learn from.

3. List five negative qualities of someone you have a problem with and/or actively dislike. Try it now, but don’t read the rest of this paragraph until you’re done. Finished?  Okay. Here’s the lesson: the qualities you dislike in others are aspects of your own shadow. Truly. I found this shocking and deeply embarrassing the first time I tried it, but with some effort I’ve come to see the truth of it. My daughter was right. No one really wants to acknowledge their shadow. This makes perfect sense when you realize that you began to create your shadow as a child by disowning every attitude, thought, emotion, and personal quality you did not like or want to have.

4. Try the same exercise with the people and creatures in your dreams that you fear or dislike. Then ask yourself what part of you is like each of those qualities. Your answers will surprise you. But they’ll also help you grow in self-awareness and balance, and that’s an immensely satisfying reward for doing the difficult work of owning your shadow.

How do you work with your shadow? How has accepting your shadow led to a more fulfilling life?

Image credit: Pinterest,

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11 Responses

  1. Dear Jeanie,

    Happy New Year!

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom, life experiences and helpful insights. Indeed, how annoying we all become when our shadowy sides are not integrated and welcomed by us. Each tip resonated, especially number 3 and how we project onto others the things we dislike about ourselves. I’ll say a little more about myself in regard to that in a minute but first, yes, learning about my INFP typology was life-changing too. Why? Because suddenly I knew that there was nothing wrong with me concerning my preference for deep meaningful relationships and loving my own happy introverted company, where when alone, I’m usually found quietly reading or furiously writing or creating in the kitchen or garden. Head in the clouds or in a book that’s me, or many an INFP I suspect.

    Long before Cohen wrote, “There’s a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Rumi wrote, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Hmm, both poets knew something that has taken me forever to realise and this feels so relatable having just penned a poem about my heart. For there I hid my wounds for many a year, cut off from my true feelings due to intense pain and shame and a repetitive thought and worry of what will people think of me if they knew I grew up in a violent, alcoholic, abusive household. Would I be judged? Was I good enough? How could I become a therapist? A writer? Anything really? And thankfully the answers came slowly through the years as all good answers do.

    Understanding why particular wounds came and of what use they would be to me and others has been a lifelong quest but one in which I’ve come to fully understand now what Cohen and Rumi were writing about. In essence, the answers are hopefully helping me integrate my shadow more and the image that I used on my blog to illustrate the poem is one of a butterfly emerging from a wound in the heart. Art that speaks literally from the heart.

    As I wrote earlier, you’re a treasure Jeanie … a kindred spirit, soul sister and wise woman for sure. Love and light, Deborah.

    1. Happy New Year, Deborah,

      As always, your kind and insightful comments warm my heart. Thank you.

      Your description of you as an INFP sounds very much like mine as an INFJ. I did not come from a violent abusive household, but I did experience the trauma of my parents’ divorce and, soon after, my father’s death. Either way, I suspect early trauma has a major part in shaping the INF personality with its fear of feeling and expressing its true emotions, love of reading, and need for solitude, self-knowledge, and deep meaningful relationships, conversations, and work. As a teenager I was so self-conscious, self-critical, and closed off that dating was a nightmare for me. Thank god I found Fred at the age of 18. His confidence, charisma, humor, intelligence, and charm were balm for my wary and weary soul. Still are.

      Now it’s easy to see how the light came in through my wounds and guided me to my passion for self-knowledge and my life’s work of writing. But I was pretty clueless for a very long time and still am in some ways. People who only know me from afar are always surprised to discover how vulnerable and spacey I can be. If your head is in the clouds from writing and reading, mine is in the same place from a mind that can’t stop writing for sure, but also thinking, analyzing, interpreting, feeling, questioning, theorizing, making associations….

      I loved the image you used on your blog for your latest poem. I’m a fan of that artist too. And by the way, I’m sorry and sad to say I missed our mutual favorite surrealist Michael Cheval when he was here. Fred and I were so engrossed in a project that weekend that I completely forgot!

      Back at you with the last sentence of your beautiful comment! I feel the same about you. Here’s to the return of light in this baby new year. May we both continue to grow in self-knowledge and compassion for ourselves and others!

      Love, Jeanie

      1. Yes, yes, yes! I too believe that early trauma plays a major part in forming the INF personality!

        Typology offers us a unique set of keys to explore our wounded selves. For me, Catrin’s butterfly (transformation) waits inside each of our wounded hearts, longing to be discovered … knowing life will change the moment we allow Psyche’s “light” to shine from inside out. And when this liberating moment happens, we no longer feel the long shadows of shame or guilt upon us, instead, we rise like phoenix’s from ash and shadow,

        Pure synchronicity, I’ve just noticed I’ve used the same artist as you! You couldn’t make it up.

        1. I love the thought of the butterfly transformation waiting inside each of our hearts longing to be discovered and allowing the light to shine from inside out. How wonderful it would be to be completely rid of the shadows of shame or guilt. A beautiful image to carry through life. I’ve had many transforming experiences when I felt freed from old wounds, but traces still remain. Maybe there are lots of little cocoons in the heart waiting to be transformed and released, and some of them are just late bloomers!

          And yes, we seem to gravitate to the same artists! I wonder if they’re INF’s too! 🙂

          1. Yes, lots of little cocoons in the heart Jeanie. Thank you for that image. I think this is why Elaine’s new book project is exciting me so much because when I first saw the painting I thought about how her monarchs were transforming her wounded heart too. And yes, how could are favourite artists not be INF’s either!

  2. Happy New Year Jeanie. Thank you for this post – I’ve just re-read it now. I remember doing the Myers Briggs MANY years ago, was it in the Centerpoint material? I was also about 38 years old. I know I did it again some years later – I think the results were more or less the same. I’ve got that sheet with its 82 questions somewhere, I must find it and re-do it. I know it’s in a safe place – so safe that I don’t know where it is …

    Believe me, when I find myself judging another, the first thing I do is relate it back to myself and wonder how much of that quality belongs to me. I have also been called bossy – which surprised – and hurt – me. So, I have to be careful about offering help or priding myself on seeing an easier way to resolve whatever it is. Even if mapping out or suggesting a more direct way of getting from A to B ..

    Another point is that the shadow can also contain positive qualities sometimes – eg when we admire a certain person or persons. How much of those qualities lie unexpressed in ourselves? Your point #4 is excellent about dialogue-ing with the people in dreams – both what is liked and/or disliked about them.

    Thank you again, as always, food for thought. Love, Susan

  3. Happy New Year Susan,

    The current version of the Myers-Briggs wasn’t in our Centerpoint materials but there was a very similar assessment that, although configured differently, said pretty much the same thing. In that one, the final scores were clustered around the centerpoint of a large circle The more well-integrated a function was, the closer it was to the center. It gave a fascinating visual image of how centered one’s psyche is.

    In that one my T (rational thinking) function was slightly closer to the center than my F (feeling function) but since then (32 years ago) I’ve always tested stronger on the F. I guess the two are fairly well balanced. The first time I took the regular MBTI was in a doctoral class. The professor had something to do with the refinement of the instrument and wrote a book about it called People Types and Tiger Stripes. It’s small and easy to read and I highly recommend it if it’s still in print.

    Your description of what you have to be careful about in terms of ‘bossiness’ resonates strongly with me! I’ve realized I need to be more aware of the same things.

    And yes. I think of the positive sides of my shadow (valuable qualities I’ve rejected or not developed for some reason) as my light, or bright shadow. Maybe that’s the light that we need to let shine through the cracks that Deborah writes about above. So we can do the same thing (point #4) with the positive qualities of people we most admire. I really like that approach, especially when I’m being particularly hard on myself, because it brings things back into perspective!!

    I’m really enjoying David’s great music parodies on YouTube. What a talented and humanitarian guy. You must be so proud of him!

    Love, Jeanie

  4. Thank you, Jeanie. This is a terrific guide for dealing with that pesky Shadow. I feel the whole country is erupting in Shadow energy and sometimes my family, too..

    I know when my Shadow is aroused by a feeling in my body, a tight defensive shield in the solar plexus and around the diaphragm as though I’ve been punched by a comment or action someone made or an observation about myself. It’s my Athena armor. It also involves an inner grumbling monologue of blame, dissatisfaction, and protest about my innocence.

    I’m forever grateful to Marie Louise von Franz for her essay “The Inferior Function” in her book ‘Psychotherapy.’ With a family expectation that I would become a thinker (like my older brother) and after achievement in thinking areas as a young woman, I learned what I already sensed. Thinking was/is my interior function. von Franz put the matter to rest as the Myers & Briggs test never had. I knew I was extroverted, but had to grow older and live alone to understand the importance of sensation for my wellbeing. Sensation sometimes feels primary now, especially on my most peaceful days. I’m a Feeling-Sensation type. The strong Judgement function can become chummy with the Shadow.

    When I take the test now, much has changed regarding extroversion and introversion because of hearing loss which makes social interaction uncomfortable and exhausting. So I may have been an extrovert most of my life, but after Vic’s death and especially after Meniere’s Disease, I gradually shifted toward introversion and that’s only strengthened due to Covid isolation. So–I see strong shifts in the last 15 years and less ability to say I am one type or another. Typology seems to change, but the Shadow always lurks around..

    1. Thanks, Elaine. Yes, I’m certainly seeing the dark underbelly of our country at a level I’ve never seen it before. But I know it’s been there all along, just waiting for the right time to erupt. And, of course, it has erupted in different ways at different times: i.e. the Prohibition era, the Depression, the McCarthy era, the Civil Rights Era, etc.These days the advanced technology of Facebook, twitter, etc. has exposed just about everyone to it, and the trauma and chaos of almost 2 years of Covid, the presidential election, and the capitol riot just added more heat. The resulting loss of the sense of safety and heightened level of fear automatically brings out the shadow in cultures and individuals all over the world. As I see it, there are no band-aids ‘out there’ that can resolve this epidemic. The only lasting resolution is the self-knowledge and evolving consciousness of each individual….the most important task any of us can ever take on.

      As someone whose inferior function is Sensation, I find your awareness of your physical response to Shadow arousal remarkable. I can hear the inner monologue but totally miss the physical symptoms of discomfort.

      So interesting that your journey has forced you to integrate more introversion into your way of life. I guess if we live long enough life will eventually force us to become aware of and befriend our inferior functions. Or at least try to! Some of us are more stubborn than others. I now know that an inferior function has been triggered when I find myself feeling very frustrated and irritable. It’s always because I’m having to do something my ego doesn’t want to do or take responsibility for. I know how to handle this now, but there’s a small shadow part of me that sometimes would rather indulge my frustration than fix it!! 🙂 She’s like a little kid who’s enjoying her temper tantrum. 🙂

  5. Happy New Year to you and yours, Jean.
    I tend to think our perceptions, and actions, filter through the One Being, or whatever people call God. In conclusion to my last post I wrote, it is one of the marvels of the psyche that consciousness expands through the projection of our unconscious biases and complexes, which we only slowly become aware of. It’s another way of saying God speaks through us, according to our state of mind at any moment, which may not be initially beneficial, but at least congruent.

    1. Hi Ashen,

      I like that way of looking at projection: as God speaking through us so we can see our authentic souls, which are human, yet still of God. Like God helps us grow more self-aware and we help God grow more self-aware. That’s pretty nifty. The book of Job tells us God has a shadow too. What else could be the opposite of good/God than evil/Devil? It’s by seeing our own devils that our consciousness expands. As for us, so for God, and vice versa. Truly a mystery.

      Happy New Year to you and yours, too, Ashen. Perhaps we’ll see the birth of your new book this year?

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