“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light,
but by making the darkness conscious.” – Carl Jung
Carl Jung has made a brilliant dichotomy of the human psyche into two essential parts – the persona and the shadow self.
The persona is the mask we wear in front of others and present to the world. It’s what we would like others to see, the show we put on. Persona is intermixed with and infused by our personality, but it is not the truest reflection of ourselves – how we act, think and feel when nobody is around and with our closest ones.
Persona always builds in response to the development of the shadow and they grow mutually so that the imaginary state of equilibrium could be reached within a person. In other words, for every form of repression there also has to be a coping skill assimilated , and therefore, a compensation put in place on the other end of the spectrum represented by a persona.
The shadow self is the utmost personal part of ourselves. It symbolizes all the unacknowledged, hurt, ignored, mistreated, repressed and exiled parts of ourselves. These are the parts that have been banished into subconsciousness and long forgotten, but nevertheless that still reside within our being and interfere with our lives. So the reasons for why we should examine our shadow more closely are pretty self-evident.
The more we remain ignorant of our shadow, the more we are inclined to invest in our image of ourselves, our persona.
This alone should be our motivation to explore the darkest corners of our psyche, because if we don’t, we never get to truly know ourselves.
The other reason is that we risk losing and forgetting our real selves if we choose to remain unconscious of, and continue to ignore what’s hiding beneath the surface, because by virtue of doing so we become too invested in the mask. We become disillusioned by perfection, selfish motives and unhealthy levels of narcissism. As Carl Jung himself said:
“The fact is that if one tries beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the shadow descends into hell and becomes the devil.”
Once we outcast our shadow, it starts leaking out of us without us noticing a thing. This is called psychological projection, and it entails denying something in yourself to the extreme point of seeing it as something outside yourself.
We all project onto other people and circumstances, but the question is to what degree?
To what degree are you striving to be perfect?
There is a point at which the person gets so invested in their mask, that it starts to act as a substitute for their real self entirely. A rift within their psyche occurs, where they become so fragmented and dissociated from themselves that they completely lose control over their shadow. At this point projection becomes wickedly dangerous because the person’s image starts destructively superimposing on their environment.
This person completely shuts off other people as beings with separate values, needs and boundaries. They are only out for themselves and they don’t recognize it as dysfunctional, or they don’t recognize it at all. Moreover, they are incapable of taking up responsibility which inevitably leads them to manipulative actions that include aggressive behaviour, blame shifting and externalizing all of their problems.
But the truth is that the devil they see in others is the devil hiding in themselves.
We don’t want to be consumed by our shadow. We want to make it conscious. Integrate what has been pulled apart.
We can do this self-awareness process in many ways, but a part of it essentially has to include how you relate to your environment.
Observe how you react to different situations and different people and what you attract into your presence. But don’t just observe how you came out momentarily, link it to how this particular reaction might have originated from somewhere deeper in the past. View the situation as if it already happened, only years ago.
There are billions of patterns to be discovered, but the point is not in frantically resolving your shadow until it completely vanishes, it’s in knowing that you are making conscious just as much as you can withstand, and this makes the journey worthwhile – because each day you can withstand more, grow in consciousness and become and understand more of yourself.
Another way to integrate your shadow is to open up to your vaulnerability with yourself, aswell as with someone close.
Opening up means lifting the veil on all the hidden motives, weaknesses, thoughts and feelings of helplessness, deep sadness, emotional disconnection or whatever else, and gratifying them as existent and very real. This puts us in a place of surrendering to the other person completely while it simultaneously enables us to feel powerful. And I don’t mean this in an egotistical sense, because by being vaulnerable we actually validate our shadow tremendeously, and therefore the mask falls off reflexively. We instantaneously embody more of ourselves, we become integrated.
There is a crucial factor for our growth and our path towards integration, and it hides in recognizing in everyone “the element of irreducible rascality“, as Allan Watts has put it. Recognizing that we are all to a certain extent devils, deceivers and manipulators of this world, and gradually coming to peace with it. It is only human to possess such qualities, and if we choose to consciously deny them in others because we are “blinded by the light”, then we neglect the same in ourselves.
Put yourself in the position of someone contemplating suicide and of someone committing a vindictive murder. Can you reconcile their maladaptive mindset and their emotional state? Can you come to terms with the fact that you would be capable of committing the same atrocities if you had identical experiences as them? Can you get so involved in suicidal ideation that you would find it plausible to kill yourself?
If we consciously choose to understand the madness inherent in other people we automatically understand the same within ourselves. And this is the thing. Knowing what you are potentially capable off, and then choosing to be opposite of that instead. There is no restraint in that, because you don’t suffocate your shadow as you would if you repressed it. You let it breathe, and so it forms a friendly relationship with you.