Written by Dr. Eric Perry, PhD
“Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence”
~Simon & Garfunkel
Like Dr. Jekyll and his evil shadow Mr. Hyde, most of us are completely unaware of the constant dark companion that dwells within us. Our shadow side, according to C.G. Jung, the celebrated Swiss psychiatrist, is the dark side of our personality. It is an unconscious aspect of the personality of which we are not consciously aware. The shadow side is comprised of primitive and negative emotions. It resides within the deepest recess of our psyche, rarely seeing light. It is comprised of the least desirable aspects of our personality such as greed, envy, anger, rage, selfishness, power strivings, and sexual lust. These are parts of the self that we reject and dare not look at in the light of day.
According to Jung, the shadow serves as a reservoir for all human darkness. All that we reject in ourselves and deem unacceptable becomes part of the shadow. We create and invest ourselves into an idea of who we are as individuals. Anything that is inconsistent with this persona is suppressed and put in the inner well that contains our darkest emotions. I believe to truly know ourselves, we must be willing to acknowledge and accept the “Mr. Hyde” within us.
How to recognize your shadow side:
1. Irrational and instinctive
The shadow side is irrational and instinctive. It will psychologically project a perceived personal inferiority onto someone else. A person may project and attribute a quality onto someone else in order to defend against their own impulse. For example, a person who habitually engages in gossip may accuse others of being gossip mongers. These projections of inferior personality traits act as a wall that keeps a person from seeing this dark side of themselves. This suggests that the qualities we repress, we often see in others.
2. May manifest as psychological disturbances
At its most dangerous, the habitually repressed shadow will manifest itself in psychological disturbances ranging from neurosis to psychosis. In centuries past, the behaviors attributed to the shadow were seen as a form of demonic possession. Such is the strength of the unleashed shadow.
3. Appears when triggered
Stressful circumstances, extreme fatigue, and intoxication may trigger the shadow side to temporarily take over a person. For example, an intoxicated person might become enraged and want to fight everyone, or a person might be triggered by a loved one in a moment of stress and lash out in an uncontrollable and irrational manner. It is as if we go on autopilot and the unconscious shadow takes over.
We must not be afraid of our shadow side. C.G. Jung used the term shadow as a metaphor for the unconscious. It is not an evil twin that resides within us. It is a part of the human psyche that should be explored and assimilated into consciousness. It can be a source of positive, life-giving attributes and also underdeveloped creativity. For example, if you were led to believe at a young age that art is a waste of time and this ability was repressed, tapping into the shadow within may unleash this artistic talent. There is much to be said about C.G Jung and exploring the shadow through shadow work. Shadow works consists of exploring insecurities, weaknesses, hatred, and other dark emotions. By exploring our shadow side we can develop more self-awareness and as a result become more self-compassionate. By increasing our self-compassion we will become more accepting of others and even be less triggered by their behavior.
This blog is meant to give you an idea of what C. G. Jung referred to as the shadow and is not all-inclusive.
“There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection” ~C.G Jung
The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a therapeutic relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a mental health professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific mental health questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.
Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
B.A. in Psychology
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