Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: What is the "Shadow"?
Understanding the "dark side" of our psyche.
Posted Apr 20, 2012
Especially concerned with those pathological mental states historically known as ‘‘demonic possession’’ (see my prior post), Jung’s psychological construct of the shadow corresponds to yet differs fundamentally from the idea of the Devil or Satan in theology. As a parson’s son, Jung was steeped in the Protestant mythos, digested the rich symbolism of Catholicism, and studied the other great religious and philosophical systems. But, as a physician and psychiatrist, he intentionally employed the more mundane, banal, less esoteric or metaphysical and, therefore more rational terminology ‘‘the shadow’’ and ‘‘the unconscious’’ instead of the traditional religious language of god, devil, daimon or mana. For Jung, depth psychological designations such as the shadow or the unconscious, were ‘‘coined for scientific purposes, and [are] far better suited to dispassionate observation which makes no metaphysical claims than are the transcendental concepts, which are controversial and therefore tend to breed fanaticism’’ (cited in Diamond, p. 97).
‘‘The shadow,’’ wrote Jung (1963), is ‘‘that hidden, repressed, for the most part inferior and guilt-laden personality whose ultimate ramifications reach back into the realm of our animal ancestors and so comprise the whole historical aspect of the unconscious’’ (cited in Diamond, p. 96). The shadow is a primordial part of our human inheritance, which, try as we might, can never be eluded. The pervasive Freudian defense mechanism known as projection is how most people deny their shadow, unconsciously casting it onto others so as to avoid confronting it in oneself. Such projection of the shadow is engaged in not only by individuals but groups, cults, religions, and entire countries, and commonly occurs during wars and other contentious conflicts in which the outsider, enemy or adversary is made a scapegoat, dehumanized, and demonized. Two World Wars and the current escalation of violence testify to the terrible truth of this collective phenomenon. Since the turn of the twenty-first century we are witnessing a menacing resurgence of epidemic demonization or collective psychosis in the seemingly inevitable violent global collision between radical Islam and Judeo-Christian or secular western culture, each side projecting its collective shadow and perceiving the other as evil incarnate.
Yet, the shadow, while very real, is not meant to be taken concretely or literally but rather, allegorically. It is not an evil entity existing apart from the person, nor an invading alien force, though it may be felt as such. The shadow is a universal (archetypal) feature of the human psyche for which we bear full responsibility to cope with as creatively as possible. But despite its well-deserved reputation for wreaking havoc and engendering widespread suffering in human affairs, the shadow–in distinction to the literal idea of the devil or demons–can be redeemed: The shadow must never be dismissed as merely evil or demonic, for it contains natural, life-giving, underdeveloped positive potentialities too. Coming to terms with the shadow and constructively accepting and assimilating it into the conscious personality is central to the process of Jungian analysis.
Notwithstanding its negative influence, Jung well understood the daimonic nature of the unconscious, and that the compensatory effects of the shadow upon individuals, couples, groups and nations could be beneficial as well: ‘‘If it has been believed hitherto that the human shadow was the source of all evil, it can now be ascertained on closer investigation that the unconscious man, that is, his shadow, does not consist only of morally reprehensible tendencies, but also displays a number of good qualities, such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc’’ (cited in Diamond, p. 96). Creativity can spring from the constructive expression or integration of the shadow, as can true spirituality. Authentic spirituality requires consciously accepting and relating properly to the shadow as opposed to repressing, projecting, acting out and remaining naively unconscious of its repudiated, denied, disavowed contents, a sort of precarious pseudospirituality. ‘‘Bringing the shadow to consciousness,’’ writes another of Jung’s followers, Liliane Frey-Rohn (1967), ‘‘is a psychological problem of the highest moral significance. It demands that the individual hold himself accountable not only for what happens to him, but also for what he projects. . . Without the conscious inclusion of the shadow in daily life there cannot be a positive relationship to other people, or to the creative sources in the soul; there cannot be an individual relationship to the Divine’’ (cited in Diamond, p. 109).
This posting is based on Dr. Diamond's article published in the Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion (Springer Verlag, 2009) and his book Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic: The Psychological Genesis of Violence, Evil, and Creativity (SUNY Press, 1996). See also his chapter in the edited anthology Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature (Tarcher/Putnam, 1991).