It was C.G. Jung who defined the term “shadow” as it is currently understood in psychology today.  That understanding we might call version 1.0.  Before Jung, the shadow was mythologized in the west as the Devil and demonic forces.   According to the Jungian understanding, the shadow is the sum total of all unconscious material such as emotions, impulses, images that are repressed and unable to make their way into our conscious awareness.  Shadow material is often said to be feelings of guilt, rage, grief, lust, greed, power strivings and other socially unacceptable material.  It can be the effects of personal and intergenerational trauma.  Shadow material is not objectively“bad”, but is those impulses that we deem to be unacceptable and that we wish were not a part of our minds.   Jung also identified a light side of the shadow – this repressed material can be the source of human genius, held back because the individual or society cannot see themselves in such a positive light or because they cannot imagine that behind their internal “evil” is universal energy that gives rise to greatness.  Because shadow material is totally unknown to the observing mind, it cannot be organized or dealt with in any way – until it is laboriously sought and brought to light.  This is the goal of Jungian Individuation which is essentially a form of alchemy.  Western alchemy also dealt with the shadow.  Symbols such as the raven, the Orobouros dragon and the term “nigredo” stood for the shadow of the psyche.    “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious   snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.” – C.G. Jung   Mental illness and pathologies of all types are so often linked directly to the shadow. Social ills such as wars, mass poverty, destructive race relations, rape, incest and the like are also directly linked to the shadow.  But in our culture, we have not yet come to understand this.  Jung’s work on the shadow is deep and wide, and yet on the whole, it has been ignored by our society.  Like Jung and the Jungians, the authors believe that unless and until we come to terms with the reality of the shadow of the psyche, we will continue to be unconsciously compelled to act out its archetypal patterns in highly destructive ways.    “We carry our past with us, to wit, the primitive and inferior man with his desires and emotions, and it is only with an enormous effort that we can detach ourselves from this burden. If it comes to a neurosis, we invariably have to deal with a considerably intensified shadow. And if such a person wants to be cured it is necessary to find a way in which his conscious personality and his shadow can live together.” – C.G. Jung   Jung believed that the oldest, deepest shadow material, left over from our animal heritage was collective in nature and probably would always be repressed to some extent. But the shadow in the greater unconscious continually leaks into the psyche, which must metabolize its energy somehow.  Unless the individual is aware of the existence of their shadow and works to mitigate its effects, it will find its way into personal and social life in destructive ways.   It could be said that evil, as we commonly define it, is the effect of shadow material being displaced into the world.     “It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses- and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself (e.g. act unconsciously). But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster; and each individual is only one tiny cell in the monster’s body, so that for better or worse he must accompany it on its bloody rampages and even assist it to the utmost. Having a dark suspicion of these grim possibilities, man turns a blind eye to the shadow-side of human nature.”  - C. G. Jung    We typically deal with shadow material in three ways.  We repress it, project it or displace it.   We repress the shadow by denying those dark impulses that exist within us, our families or even in society.  We often deny the existence of cultural darkness such as organized crime and real world conspiracies, the underlying impulses behind wars or the sources of human suffering of all kinds.  By denying this cultural shadow material we protect ourselves because to accept that the culture has a shadow is to accept that we also have one.  Such an acceptance could be a devastating blow to our egos.  We also project our shadow material out by demonizing others.  We paint others with a brush dipped in our own evil.  We see them as the purveyors of hate, intolerance, violence, lust or greed.  We fail to see that those whom we demonize are acting as mirrors for our own repressed shadow material.    “A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbour.” – C.G. Jung   The third way we deal with shadow material is to physically displace it.  In physics there is the concept of “displacement of entropy”.  All systems or organisms must expel their internal chaos to maintain internal order.  Humans do this as well.  Healthy ways to displace our entropy (shadow) might be sports, constructive work, laughing, dancing, healthy sex and play. In pre-modern times, rituals existed as ways to displace shadow material.  Unhealthy ways might include road rage, fighting, arguing, addictions and any activity that is compelled by an “intense need”.   Actually, a great deal of our impulses to “make the world a better place” are actually efforts to displace our entropy.  Political goals are so often driven by the need to displace our shadow material.  We project evil onto our political enemies and then take action to stop them from acting out their evil.  In the process we all too often end up creating the very evil we wished to stop.  Every political mass movement which ended in genocide began with a sincere belief that the movement was an effort to do good and stop evil.  Because the individuals in the movement could not separate out their shadow material from their genuinely good impulse to protect and serve society, “the demons” were given a terrible sacrifice.  Conscious activism is community service that continually turns the mirror around to face ourselves and corrects our action accordingly.  
prev / next