The Shadow Archetype Series:
After seeing how shadows are made, our journey in understanding them have moved forward by trying to see how they can cause problems for us. By seeing how they can be problematic, we can somehow avoid nurturing the shadow archetype by becoming more and more aware of its existence.
But more than that, more than merely regarding the shadow as a negative entity in our entire psyche, we can think of the shadow as one of the many ways to improve our lives.
Yes, you heard it correctly! More than what meets the eye, the shadow can be a source of growth and prosperity, much like an untapped oil reservoir that a country can make use of.
But before we begin this process trying to have a deeper understanding about the shadow, we must first look at the context from which it exists. And so we begin with one of Jung’s famous quotations about the 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 the chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subject to the modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.” (Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion)
From here, we can see that man is an unending self-project.
At some point in our lives, we have seen a building being constructed across the street. As we pass by, we see that the foundation is built and slowly the building layout is constructed.
A few months or years later, we see the building that is fully operational, with new amenities and modernized aesthetics.
Eventually, the building will be renovated or reconstructed in certain manners given that it has become old. And so, either a new one arises or the old one gets improvements.
But most of the time, we see buildings becoming so old and obsolete, just here and there, doing its same old function. While different, a simple example of buildings can tell us a lot about self-project.
Like the example above, our self is a continually unending project.
We have ideas of ourselves which can be influenced by the reality before us. Nonetheless, our idea of the self and how it actualizes in reality is definitely not limited by the circumstances we are in.
This is due to our freedom and reason which allows us to judge and apply things. Looking beyond, what we should be paying attention is that in building this self, we sometimes become like those newer buildings with new architectural taste or remain unfinished, rotten, or stagnant.
Just like ourselves, who we are highly depends on who we become. And who we become, is nothing more than a result of a series of choices that we make.
What Jung is pointing out here is that in perceiving who we become, we are usually less good than who we want to be.
But why are we less good? If we look back at the previous articles, we will see that people who fail to recognize their shadows are unaware of how they constantly influence their decision-making process.
As one begins his take on a racially sensitive issue, one perceives himself as a good person with good intentions.
And so, he or she may become self-righteous in the process. What that person fails to realize is that in making a choice, he is actually less good because he failed to perceive the shadow part – the negative aspect of making a choice.
As we prefer one thing from the other, we sometimes may negatively portray the other and more positively portray ourselves.
Having this realization, we arrive at the conclusion that this is a constant phenomenon, an endless battle that we wage against oneself as one continues to build and struggles to understand oneself and society.
Understanding this mystic and strange nature of the shadow is no easy feat. It is difficult for us to even face our shadows, yet alone, embrace them.
The reason behind such is that the very existence of the shadow is a way for us to escape a part of who we really want to become. By conforming to the rules and notions within society, we suppress these shadows, leaving them to become blacker and denser, as Jung puts it.
For instance, some people experience supernatural things and events, feeling the presence of beings that are beyond us. And yet, they fail to even express these things simply because society will judge them.
But oftentimes, in life, we see that the most successful and happiest of individuals are those that live life by their own means.
They are people who simply do not conform to the empty ‘’American Dream”, for they pursue what truly makes them happy – creating their own artistic styles, creating new ways of composing and translating music, living by their own means and rules in life.
While society may judge them as different, they are rightly so for they stand out, and allow themselves to be distinguished from the rest.
How did this happen? Why do I find myself in the midst of it all, wandering aimlessly when my aim was supposedly set by society already? This is because one failed to face the shadow.
The only true way to move further in life, to self-actualize, is by facing one’s shadow, trapped within us, like a child waiting to be recognized by his/her parents.
Like this child, it is imperative for us to tap on these faculties of the mind that we constantly repress. Jung, in the above passage, specifically points out that we have to correct these isolated and repressed parts of our selves.
“The shadow, when it is realized, is the source of renewal; the new and productive impulse cannot come from established values of the ego. When there is an impasse, and sterile time in our lives…we must look to the dark, hitherto unacceptable side which has been at our conscious disposal.” (Connie Zweig, Meeting the Shadow)
This actually makes a lot of sense. In our life as individuals, we face walls that we can never seem to break.
Like a problem of some sort, we are hindered of moving forward. Perhaps this is because we are not thinking hard enough or not looking at the right direction. In order to break the wall, we have to smash it or pass above it.
Either way, we have to exceed the wall. Thus, the way to advance is to look at the untapped potentialities of the shadow for who we are in our current state is unable to break that wall.
For instance, think of boredom. While people think that this is perfectly normal, boredom is actually an individuality problem. When people are disinterested of the things around them, it may relatively speak about the dull nature of such mundane things.
Inversely, it may also speak of not only the view but the viewer. Yes, sometimes it doesn’t speak of the things but of the person who views them. The way we perceive things around us tells us something about ourselves.
A simple guitar man may be playing the most obsolete of songs within that subway that we usually pass by. But not all of us stop and find him interesting. Rather, most of us finds him too normal to the point that we don’t even notice him.
And so, we continue to live our lives, doing the routinely repetitive tasks that we need to do, and continue being bored till we face further bouts of depression.
But if we look at the example given above, we fail to notice the guitar man because we unconsciously repress him.
While his song creates melody and music, they fail to reach our ears. They exist, but we don’t recognize them, nor acknowledge them, just like the parts of ourselves that we repress.
This is like our shadow, the repressed aspects of ourselves that we keep buried.
This is exactly why we should pay attention to the shadow – that perhaps the problem lies not in the shadow but the way we perceive them. Perception is everything in life.
If you’re having a bad day as things are not going your way, your perception will make it even worse. Just as happiness is a perspective, the way we perceive things greatly defines and shapes their meaning to us.
In this case, we look at the shadow. Even the socio-cultural perception about shadows can be a bit biased towards the dark side.
But is it really a ‘dark side’ as we popularly understand the term? Or the shadow can actually be something else that we don’t quite understand?
Thus, the way to go is to perform shadow work by bringing the shadow into consciousness, by becoming more and more aware of the things that we resent and suppress.
But more than that, these things do have a negative vibe to them. In an encounter with the shadow, we must face and embrace them by changing our perspectives about them.
A person you hate, for instance, is not someone you’d want to face and embrace. Perhaps, this person has caused pain in your life that you resent and suppress them so much.
But by changing your viewpoint, you can actually conquer yourself and be able to deal with them. One way to do it is by looking at their contexts, where they are coming from, why are they like this and like that.
The same principle applies to our shadow.
We cannot tap into its resource if we keep seeing it negatively.
Rather, the best way to proceed is to perceive our shadows from a neutral standpoint in order to give them a fairer ground.
By being less biased, we can make our shadows useful instead as we can treat them as a resource.
Consider for instance, the problem of gambling. While one person may see and recognize his tendencies for gambling and its negative effects in his or her life, he will continue to resent gamblers and avoid gambling himself.
Make no mistake about it, you will find this person either being so judgmental about gamblers or secretly being a gambler himself. As we know by now, this gambling problem is a shadow that the person in this example continually tries to suppress or resent.
But why should he deal with it? Think for a second and evaluate. Is there any positive way to incorporate this negative tendency in one’s existence?
As an example, gambling is usually perceived negatively because of the assumption that when people begin doing it, they lose control along the way, and risks more than what they actually can afford.
We all heard the story – a friend’s father lost his wealth to gambling and inevitably ran into deep debt. But is this always the case?
How can we make use of this shadow? Real gamblers, the one who actually do it for a living will tell you otherwise.
Instead of being a purely luck-based game, gambling can be viewed from a skill perspective. While luck plays a part in gambling, ultimately, it is the gambler who makes the decision in whether or not he or she will proceed with the bet.
And so, when the dice are thrown, the cards are drawn, they live with the results. Sometimes they win, and sometimes they lose, or at least that’s how we view them. But are they really like that?
Instead of viewing them simply as such, we should at least consider the logical aspect of gambling.
In most gambling games such as poker, baccarat, blackjack, roulette, etc., they involve a mathematics of probability. A normal person would perceive it as a game of luck because that person focuses on the result of the game.
A real professional gambler focuses on the other part – the process. The gambler, having expert recognition of the process and forces in play, knows that when something lands, it is due to reasonable probability.
That is why there is such a thing called odds. While the everyday person attributes his success and failure to luck, the professional gambler attributes it to odds.
While still not guaranteed, the professional gambler is more likely to gain in the long run given that every time he bets, he takes into account the odds of him winning and losing.
What does this tell us? Simple – that even a seemingly negative trait can have a positive counter-part.
While the gambler is negatively perceived as too much of a risk taker, the occasional gambler (especially the ones who manifest their shadows negatively in this way) is way more of a risk-taker than that of the real gambler.
Why so? It is because the professional one lives with and has a deeper and more intricate understanding of risk, while the tourist is out there to spend money and gamble regardless of the odds.
Going back to the topic of tapping into the shadows, the example above can exhibit an instance wherein a negatively perceived shadow can be utilized to one’s growth and advantage.
This is not to say that for instance, being a gambler can be attributed to personal growth. (although some would agree it may be)
Rather, the point of my example above is that one’s tendency for gambling doesn’t automatically make him a bad person. If we talk about people in general, people have varying levels of risk.
Some people love to risk more, while some avoid risks. Some love the thrill, some hate it to the guts. In this case, if one loves to gamble, it might possibly say something about him or herself – that he/she is a risk lover.
But is he necessarily a risk taker? It depends. In this way, one may face the shadow and use it as a resource in order to improve oneself.
Discovering that he/she has a tendency for such can actually be a resource. It doesn’t mean that one must do gambling, rather, one may be able to harness the power of unqderstanding probabilities better than a regular person.
In fact, this may help a person to make better choices in life for each choice we make face a certain risk factor, even the very act of crossing the street or taking the plane vs. the train.
Understanding risk factors can help a person know if he/she should purchase the latest Iphone or pass on it just as deciding whether which insurance to get and how much coverage to apply for.
Meaning to say, directly prejudging and being too biased against one’s shadow only creates negative energy.
Instead of accepting the possibility that it can contribute to the betterment of one’s individuality and spiritual self, the shadow is excluded as a negative entity, and with it, we throw away limitless potential.
Thus, the shadow must be viewed a bit more fairly so that we can assess whether some traits we have can actually be a spring field for success.
Continue to Part 5: Integrating One’s Shadow