The Narrative: Meeting the Shadow

Contributor: Almila Kakinc-Dodd
Photographer: Almila Kakinc-Dodd
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T H E   N A R R A T I V E  |  M E E T I N G   T H E   S H A D O W 

This week, we're continuing the Jungian psychosomatic understanding of the body with the meeting of the Shadow, our psychological immune system, and why it is not a mere negative mechanism.



M E E T I N G   T H E   S H A D O W 

“This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine”                                                                                                                                                          — William Shakespeare

Much of what we know about ourselves, our moralities, and our drives is not an accurate reflection of who we truly are. Each of us contains both a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You might have noticed this aspect of the self in thinking "Why are the people around me being difficult?" or "Why do I keep getting into situations like this?" These are the workings of your Mr. Hyde or your Shadow.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, I don't hide any dark aspect; you might be interjecting, "You don't know my name, you don't know my story, you don't know what I've been through!" Yet, psychological theory is here to tell you otherwise. In fact, what you know about yourself in consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg. Our pleasure principles, urges, and desires—our Id—as well as the unconscious are well below the surface of our immediate awareness. 

“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

An example of this shadow, Mr. Hyde self is when we find ourselves uttering something hurtful or having a complete Freudian slip that we immediately regret. The thought process that follows of "Why the @#$% did I say that?" is a manifestation of our blind spot, a Titanic one so to speak. It's the shadow slipping out & above the waters of your consciousness. 

Some situations where you have met your Shadow will include ones such as when we exclaim:

Exaggerated exclamatory statements about others: "How could she wear/say/do that?!

When we have repeated offensive behaviour with different people: "Your sister and I are upset by how you're always late"

In impulsive acts or behaviours: "I can't believe I just said that out loud!"

Humiliation: "I'm so ashamed by her behaviour"

In negative feedback from those who mirror our Shadow: "It's the nth time you have been late to work without giving notice"

Despite your response being obvious or even justified, a shadow-cast response is one for which you felt a lack of control or betrayal of the constructed or proper version of yourself. It's as if, like Mr. Hyde, there's another person operating your mental machinery. This is your shadow self, the container of your unexplored negative behaviours and emotions such as rage, jealousy, envy, shame, lust, dishonesty, and greed, jus to name a few. This shadow is masked by our more proper, presentable selves.

The shadow develops naturally through childhood. As we have positive behaviours such as politeness reinforced and other, socially unacceptable ones such as rudeness disapproved. As a result, the ego develops in tandem with the shadow through life experiences. 

The ego and shadow are inseparable. This is a key idea. Many forces develop our Shadow, ranging from our family to more complex factors such as our environment or sociocultural status. So, what becomes our ego and our Shadow will vary. Some cultures permit sexuality while others don't just as with artistic expression or financial pursuits. These feelings, traits, or capacities that are denied through experience for the ego are then exiled into the Shadow. However, that does not mean that all aspects of the Shadow are negative, such as neurotic symptoms or infantile tendencies; some of our talents and gifts also stem from our shadow. 

This is because, in Jungian psychology, the Shadow also retains contact with the "lost depths of the soul, with life and vitality—the superior, the universally human . . . even the creative." It's our psychic immune system, building our psychological body.

So, in meeting your shadow this week, create a two-column list. On one side, honestly (perhaps brutally so, as you'll be the only one to read it) list all of your traits or tendencies that you or society deems negative. Some questions to bring these up are:

What do you catch yourself in the act of & regret? What holds you back from accomplishing or even reaching for a goal? How are you disconnecting from others? 

On the other hand side, list traits or talents that you value in yourself, think of characteristics that not only shape you but impact others positively.

Once you complete the list, reflect on how your Shadow has and continues to shape you both negatively and positively. Watch over your behaviour fand interactions for the next week, which might be especially strained or triggering of the Shadow with the Holidays. Be compassionate with yourself and remember that both the Ego and Shadow are protective mechanisms. This is not to fix but the boost your psychological immune system; these investigations are vaccines.

In the next installment, we will dive into separating the negative sources of the Shadow through the Collective Shadow.