“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
Table of Contents
1. What is the shadow?
“The shadow is the saurian tail of the psyche going back to the prehistoric reptilian beginnings of the psyche. It also contains our infantile rage, frustrations, and panic at our thwarted instincts in childhood and throughout our life.”
Understood simply, the shadow is all the aspects that we do not yet love. It is the unconscious part of our mind, that is made up of both our personal and the collective unconsciousness.
It is our data log, the part of the brain that has recorded our experiences for millennia, all our nature based, animalistic instincts. It was formed in a response to perceived threats.
It is essentially the interface of where mind meets matter. At the deepest level, this happens in utero, when we grow from one cell to a complete human being, embedding the experience of that time into the fabric of our being, weaving it into the genetic landscape of us. It continues intensively during the first seven years of our childhood (whilst our mind absorbs information and experiences like a sponge) and it continues to change over time.
In our inherited ancestral and developmental childhood, the shadow is a universal suppression of our true nature – aspects of self that become the internal enemy. We see the roots of the shadow in having to conform to our immediate social environment for our survival.
From the very real physical threats of hunger, thirst, dis-ease, exposure etc. to fears of the unknown aspects of the external world, to internal inner fears around co-operation and belonging within the tribe and then adhering to inner moral ideals.
Compounded further by the formation of world religions that usurped the rituals that tied us to nature. They imposed sense of dualistic morality – right and wrong. It created an internal imperative and voice of conscience – burying these aspects of our wild and “shameful” nature even deeper.
One essential fact remains – we are nature, and so long as we try to deny aspects of our true, whole and full nature, we will remain split, troubled and limited.
Healing comes through union with love. Trauma comes through separation from love.
Shame and rejection are universally feared experiences, felt in the body similar to physical pain!
2. Shadow work – the theme of our time?
We are living in a time when the unconscious is rapidly becoming conscious.
A time when we are finally being invited to weave together the dark and the light and transcend the polarised dualistic reality we’ve been caught in for so long.
This is the lightwork we came for – not to hide out in the light of love, but to bring love to all the parts within us that have been starved of love from millennia.
As we heal ourselves, we are helping to heal the collective.
Transcending duality, harmonising polarities, finding balance within the centre of our true selves and learning new authentic expression of self within our wholeness.
Making the unconscious conscious is also about moving from inner polarisation, separation and war and returning back to a place of love, peace and harmony.
3. How can we begin to know our shadow?
The shadow – the personal and collective aspects of our unconscious are all the aspects that we a. supress, b. repress and c. deny. They may be memories, thoughts, feelings, beliefs or sensations.
A. With suppression, we consciously push away our uncomfortable feelings (numbing, distracting, such as emotional eating, alcohol, drugs, binge watching Netflix etc.)
B. Repression is an unconscious process of burying painful internal experiences.
C. Whilst denial is the rejection of external realities and experiences from the conscious mind.
The beauty to be found in all these processes is that they are intelligent survival adaptations that were designed to keep us safe.
But there is a cost for these survival mechanisms. They create splits within our psyche, a distancing us from our truth and severing us from our wholeness.
It creates a heavy burden of unconscious material we carry around with us. And in trying to lighten the load of this, we project our shadow onto others.
Or, in severe cases, it causes a full split in the personality, creating what we know to be schizophrenia.
4. The Building Blocks of the Shadow
The building blocks of the shadow are fear, judgement, guilt and shame.
The shadow has been constructed by us and so it can also be deconstructed by us too.
The shadow is made up of dark and golden aspects. As Carl Jung said “the shadow is 90% pure gold.” It also holds a lot of our untapped energy.
Carl Jung talked about the shadow not just being dark – but golden too – full of all the incredible aspects of ourselves we buried through damaging beliefs we adopted through our caregivers in our formative years. These dark aspects may be troublesome in when rejected, but when brought back into the light of our conscious awareness to be harnessed, they are empowering aspects needed for us to fulfil our potential. Whilst the golden aspects help to steer us towards our destiny.
The dark shadow can be made up of our inflated emotional responses to traits we dislike in others (negative projections, traits we secretly aspire to in others (positive projections) ) and old behaviours we now no longer accept in ourselves.
For example, someone told their anger was wrong may have buried it, reintegrating it would support their ability to have healthy boundaries and assert themselves. Some told that sex was shameful may have been cut off from their creativity and healthy vitality, passion and pleasure, which re-integrating it would help them harness.
The shadow is not static – it is a dynamic energetic matrix that we are either integrating, through acknowledgement, forgiveness and acceptance, or adding to it.
We can start by asking ourselves questions to begin to bring awareness to aspects of our dark and golden shadow.
1. What would I not want people to know about me?
2. What do I feel ashamed or guilty about?
3. What habits don’t serve me?
4. What scares me?
5. What traits do I most dislike in others?
6. If money was no issue what would I pursue?
7. What things light me up/bring me joy?
8. What traits do I most admire in others?
5. Reclaiming responsibility for our projections
“We can project an external reality from and internal state.”
Projection is the psychological defence mechanism in which we unconsciously transpose our own unacceptable qualities onto another. It is a way our psyche defends the ego and off-loads the unconscious aspects of our own personality. We don’t see people as they are, we see them as we are.
Carl Jung described the mechanism of projection as “the greatest moral challenge of our time.” Standing between us and our true self-responsibility and sovereignty.
“The shadow is easily identified through projections. In an attempt to defend the ego the psyche projects shadow behaviour onto other people so that what we hate about other’s behaviour actually belongs to us. The same is true on a larger scale between social classes, races, political enemies, and especially animals.”
It is not possible to love something and judge it at the same time. Anything we judge in ourselves or another we are separate from.
And how do we know when we are projecting vs. when we are seeing clearing/discerning. The key tell-tale sign is that when we are projecting, your emotional response is disproportionate to the action.
So, if someone’s behaviour is informing us, cool. It is disproportionately affecting you, then voila – meet an aspect of your shadow!
We can begin to expand our acceptance and compassion towards ourselves and others. We release and integrate the energy of rejected parts of self.
“You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single salvation…and that is called loving. Well, then, love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else.”
As we release others from our projections, we begin to see others as they really are.
6. Returning to our instinctive nature - coming back to wholeness
“The shadow, being part of our primal nature, contains the tremendous energy of instincts and natural drives. Our connection to our bodies, to nature, and to our evolutionary history is all hidden in the shadow.”
We have become one-sided and lost connection to our animalistic, instinctive, primal nature and needs. We need to reconnect with this to become whole, renewing our joie de vive, physical vitality and radiance.
Carl Jung purported that hidden deep within the collective unconscious and the archetypal wisdom it held, was also our true self – our divine blueprint – our wholeness. This ‘self’ archetype enables our own maturation and individuation. It carries immense power, creativity, vitality, integrity, poise and adaptability. It is aligned with out true nature, which is nature herself.
By accepting responsibility for our shadow we can become one again – both within ourselves – and with others too (as part of the collective). What we can accept in ourselves we can also accept in others.
“Instead of slaying the dragon of our evolutionary origins we need to laud it for so tenaciously and resourcefully guarding for us the treasure of our wholeness.”
By integrating our shadow we are reclaiming our vitality, instincts, potentiality, aliveness, drive, wholeness and wisdom
7. Dreamwork – entering the unconscious and healing the shadow
“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
In addition to exploring our projections in our waking life, we have direct access to our unconscious during our dream state. The unconscious communicates through the symbolic landscape of our dreams. What it lacks in linear rationality, it makes up for in comprehensive inclusion of aspects of self that have been repressed, supressed and denied.
Dreams have their own logic, a metaphorical, archetypial, mysterious, symbolic mode of communication
It is, in many ways, the greatest gift we are given towards balance.
Our dreams can draw our attention to neglected aspects of our selves and our lives, carry us through transitions, compensate for our one sided conscious attitudes and even (by plugging into the oneness) warn us in advance of dangerous situations (as Jung found with his prophetic precognitive dreams of war!)
Whilst we are conditioned into the duality of “either or” thinking, it is our dreams that offers us the information to remind us about the bit of dark within the light, or visa versa. It is a gift towards unity consciousness, rebalancing, harmonisation and wholeness.
For example, perhaps we place a friend or family member on a pedestal, seeing only their good qualities – perhaps you have a dream where you see some less than savoury aspects of them.
Dreams can move us from polarised ‘either – or’ duality to a yin-yang more integrated approach. Nothing is ever just dark, or just light. The two are in dynamic relation. There is always some light in the dark, or light in the dark. The seed of joy existing in sorrow – the sorrow being the bedrock for joy.
In this way I agree with Jasbinder Garnermann (Chair of Jungian Studies) that “the purpose of our dreams is to make us whole.” A bringing together of the unoncious and conscious. It is a re-integration of the dualities and polarities so that we can transcend them and return home to wholeness.
Often, when we begin to have shadow dreams or nightmares, we are being called to bring attention to what is being rejected. This can begin with the complexes that can get formed in our early childhood around our parental figures and caregivers.
If we want to individuate, we need to allow both sides of the spectrum of self to come back to a state of dynamic balance: “we can be sure that it is embodying in extreme form the precise quality that we need in order to become whole and balanced, in order to individuate. The prude needs the prostitute, the workaholic needs the druggie, and the intellectual needs the bimbo” Jasbinder.
Unification is the name of the game – the healing of the split within our psyches – finding peace between warring opposites of shadow and personality, ego and self, inner and outer, masculine and feminine etc.
To come back to wholeness and function from this place, is the key to individuation and the ability to fulfil our unique destinies as instruments of the divine. We deserve to know the full story of who we are – the good, the bad, the ugly and the exceptional. It is all divine.
The process of making the distorted shadow qualities conscious, is in itself a process of alchemy as we harness our direction of these forces within us.
For example, jealousy can become a striving for excellence. Aggression, am assertion of self.
And so, the doing is in the courageous act of seeing.
Seeing what is. Releasing the judgement and being brave enough to bring love to whatever is.
Remembering, everything in the universe wants acknowledgement and everything thing deserves love, because behind it all, only love is real.
We must acknowledge the emotions we catch ourselves habitually trying to consciously repress. We must befriend those aspects of ourselves we have repressed. And at the deepest level we must remember the things we have denied.
We must be willing to shine a light into the places that scare us.
We can begin to remember our dreams by setting the strong intention before we go to sleep to wake up with the memory of our dreams still in-tact. We can then go about the process of recording them and analysing them. Simply by witnessing these aspects of shadow self, we begin to integrate them back into our being.
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”