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What Is the Shadow in Jungian Psychology?

What Is the Shadow in Jungian Psychology?

Understanding the Dark Side of the Unconscious

Megge Hill Fitz-Randolph

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” begins that famous spine tingling, radio thriller from the 1930s — The Shadow. No, this is not that shadow. That shadow actually did lurk in the rooms, streets and dark alleys of our cities. Still, this shadow is close by.

There is, indeed, an actual shadow-like energy that exists hidden from conscious mind yet contributing to the overall shape of the personality. This is what in psychological terms is meant by the shadow. It has become so popular in the lexicon it is worth understanding in more depth.

What Is Hidden

According to Carl Jung, the shadow is that part of the personality one chooses not to see. Usually of a vulgar, shameful, or corrupt nature, the shadow is comprised of whatever one cannot uphold in one’s idea of oneself. Not being integrated or even acknowledged by conscious mind, the shadow sits and waits in the unconscious.

If Not Acknowledged

But never does the shadow evaporate or disappear; it simply goes underground where it continues to influence the person as complexes and neuroses. The solution from a Jungian perspective is not to repress but to acknowledge this material, to move closer towards it while disallowing its full expression in daily life.

A Life of its Own

Otherwise, the shadow can take on a life of its own, burst out in inopportune moments causing embarrassment or worse. These are the stories that hit the cable news channels by the famous and infamous. Mostly, however, one feels only gripped from time to time by the black dog of depression or malaise which seems to arise for no apparent reason.

Shows up in Dreams

Meanwhile, the unconscious continues to present this shadow material in dreams and daydreams or fantasy life. In this way the psyche is constantly being given the opportunity to become cognizant of its entire range and reconciled, at least in part, to its “unacceptable” aspects.

Energy Block

The effort to handle the shadow by repression only blocks crucial energy from the psyche which can contribute to depression and inertia. Trying to handle it through projection onto others is another unsatisfactoy as well as dangerous way. However, once this repressed material starts to be acknowledged, the integration process has begun and tremendous energy starts returning to the psyche.

Causing No Harm

Jung saw that part of the work of the unconscious was to make itself heard by allowing life giving energy to be integrated back into conscious awareness. By transforming the shadow energy into acceptable expressions, the whole personality, its light and its dark side, can be brought into greater balance.

It should be remembered, however, that it is crucial to find appropriate substitutes for this shadow energy. It must be neither repressed nor fully exploited but, through transformation into appropriate channels, brought into balance with the conscious personality

Hiding the Gold

Sometimes it is not the darker aspects of the unconscious but the very best parts, the gold of the psyche, that is hidden. These are the unrealized talents and gifts that can seem as threatening to the psyche as anything else for they demand change of the personality structure and/or lifestyle in order to be realized.

Balance in the Personality

The work of the psyche, then, is to find ways to incorporate the unacknowledged material thereby releasing its energy caught in the backwaters of the unconscious. As this is accomplished more and more of this “stuck” energy becomes released and returned to consciousness. Thus the whole personality, its light and its darker sides, come into greater balance and wholeness. Read Shadow Work in Eight-Easy-Steps for practical tips on how to handle this awesome shadow energy.

For how to learn more about the Shadow read Review of Romancing the Shadow.

Sources and recommended reading:

Bly, R., (1988). A little book about the shadow. San Francisco: Harper.

Johnson, R., (1993), Owning your own shadow: Understanding the dark side of the psyche. New York:

Harper Collins.

Jung, C.G., (1981). Man and his symbols. New York: Dell Publishing.