Are You Afraid of Your Own Shadow?

by Peter Milhado PHD on August 2, 2017

In the darkness of anything external to me, I find an interior psychic life that is my own. (C.G. Jung)

One of the most painful and rewarding experiences in life is to unblinkingly look in the mirror and see who we really are, not who we would like to be.  There we truly stand alone; most people can’t do it.

Arrogance, greed, selfishness, grandiosity, possessiveness, vengeance envy, blame, and despotic control are easy to see in others, but if we cop to those characteristics within ourselves, where they undoubtedly also reside as our own ‘Shadow’,  we’re on the way to liberation from neurotic symptoms like anxiety, depression, digestive problems, obsessions, and addictions etc.  At bottom, neurosis is an ethical problem.  Doing the inner ‘Shadow Work’ is surely a painful and arduous task, but it is also a rite of passage, an initiation, which will eventually lead to unleashing our strength, our potential, our creativity, and most of all our soulfulness.

Most of us say that when I raise my children I’m not going to be like my parents, but unless I do the inner ‘Shadow Work’ I become exactly like them  or excessively the opposite.  The greatest problem belongs to those who refuse to look into the darkness of their own hearts, because these folks don’t have a ‘Shadow’, but the ‘Shadow’ has them.  Spare me from ‘nice guys’, ‘supermoms’, ‘religious purists’ and ‘do gooders’, they’re usually mean suckers.   The more we’re identified with our glorified and wonderful social roles (our personas), the more likely it is we become cold, cynical and even cruel.

People who are on a genuine inner path meet up with their ‘Shadow’ early on in their journey, any psychotherapy worth it’s salt takes up the ‘Shadow’ problem.  Underlying all bigotry and racism lies the ‘Shadow’, which when not owned and integrated gets projected onto other ethnic groups.  When Jung was asked at the end of his life if there was hope for humanity, he answered by saying only if enough individuals on this planet do the inner ‘Shadow work’.  One does not become enlightened by imaging figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.  The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular (C.G. Jung).

How do we recognize our inner ‘Shadow’?  Well, be brave, and ask your partner in life, he or she probably have the most information.  Other good sources can be your friends, children and co-workers.  If you run across a person who triggers strong feelings of dislike and disdain in you, there’s a good probability that their traits of being competitive or self-centered also reside to some degree within you.  As always, the continuous source of wisdom, our nighttime dreams, can be helpful.  Our own ‘Shadow’ personality tends to show up in dream as characters of the same sex.  If a man dreams about his father-in-law, who is known to use coercive power to get his way, he might be well advised to check out his own controlling ways.  Another clue might come from taking an inventory of our own history of anger.  Two unhealthy ways of dealing with anger is to either to repress and not own it or to express it in manipulation and explosive temper tantrums.  First comes hurt and then comes anger, we need to express them both.  If we do not deliver them directly, they show up as coldness, nagging, blame and brutality, not to mention ulcers and depressions.

There are two different kinds of suffering.  The first is the suffering imposed from the outside which all humans on this earth share.  All we can do here is to hold each other with compassion and love.  The second kind of suffering is the suffering we create ourselves, i.e. neurotic suffering.  The only way out of this condition is to take on the difficult and painful task of taking a look in the mirror and doing the inner ‘Shadow Work’.

The ‘Shadow’ can be very tricky.  He hides behind expertise as a demand to be above criticism.  Often an unswerving commitment to monogamy and marriage is a disguise for possessiveness, control and jealousy (Sheldon Kopp).  We blame spouses, partners and bosses for keeping us miserable.

We can only get to know our ‘Shadow’ one piece at a time.  We never know all of it, only what we are ready for.  If we don’t do the ‘Shadow Work’ a flattening of the personality sets in, we lose creativity, spontaneity and deeper emotions.  Life becomes shallow and spiritless.  If we do the inner work we become less judgmental towards others as well as ourselves.  We are liberated from both perfectionism and inadequacy.

Literary writers usually know more about the condition of the human soul than psychologists.  The great German poet Johann Wolfgang von Göthe said that he had never heard of a crime of which he did not believe himself capable.  Our soulful American playwright Arthur Miller put it this way in his play ‘After The Fall’,  “And the wish to kill is never killed, but with the gift of courage one may look into its face when it appears and with a stroke of love- as an idiot in the house- forgive it, again and again… forever.”

Love to Mother Meera. One for all and all for one.

Peter Milhado © 2017



Where Is Your Passion?

by Peter Milhado PHD on December 12, 2015

What Fascinates and Terrifies At

The Same Time Is The Way Of The Soul

-Unknown Poet


Obviously this statement doesn’t suggest that we act out some form of neurotic or deviant obsession, nor is it a call to sell the farm and hightail it to Tahiti with a 22-year-old.  This poetic line refers to a specific time in the middle years when we have to respond to a summons of the soul, make a choice and take a leap into uncharted waters.  It’s about living life with passion.

Much of the first half of life we’ve lived according to the dictates of our culture, our parents and our religious and social institutions.  Those who lived in compulsive defiance also cut themselves off from their inner center.  In this process of trying to establish ourselves in the world, we’ve left vital and soulful parts of our natural self behind.  In the middle years, those neglected and soulful parts, which Levinson calls “other voices in other rooms”, come pounding on our door.  At that moment, we’re caught between a rock and hard place, because repressing those “other” voices, intuitions and images leads straight into depression and despair.  Yet, if we allow them to come into consciousness for reflection, we get blasted with waves of anxiety.  What complicates this existential dilemma even further is when we begin to hear that voice, see that internal vision and call for action, we never know whether they are a mirage or an oasis.  As much as I know, we eventually have to choose anxiety over depression and listen to our inner voice.  Needless to say, this is only done after a considerable amount of soul searching… never impulsively.  We might have to explore a couple of mirages before we hit the oasis.  Jung catches the bigger picture when he says, “The right way towards wholeness is made of wrong turnings and fateful detours.”

When we’re at the crossroads in mid-life, it actually feels like we’re hanging on a cross- a psychological crucifixion, so to speak.  No one has prepared us for this- here we truly stand alone.  Following someone else’s path always ends up in disappointment or worse, self-betrayal.

During the middle passage we reach a point when we realize that no one knows what life means for someone else.  Each path is different… there is no Guru.  Our old Ojaian neighbor Krishnamurti helped us with that one a long time ago.

For some, there comes a time at the crossroads where a decision has to be made, which is purely based on one’s personal code of honor, even if it is in opposition to spiritual dogma and man-made laws.  Obviously, these decisions are made in the service of soul.

Joseph Campbell always told his audiences to “Follow your bliss.”  He obviously didn’t mean to follow some spaced out narcissistic trip.  He was talking about following your passions, including all the sacrifices and sufferings we meet up on our soul’s journey.  The call of passion is to live life fully. Fear of disapproval and how we “ought” to live our lives needs to be thrown by the wayside.  Otherwise we’re doomed to live the trivial lives of cynics, hoarders, applauders of the past, martyrs, blamers, and celebrity clones… or we’ll end up grunting and sweating in so called “health” spas because we’re afraid of aging.  Believing materialism will make us happy leaves us absolutely bankrupt in mid- life.  Not living passionately leads to shallowness and eventually “hardness of heart”!

If we follow our passion we’re likely to become strangers to some of the people who know us, but at least we are not strangers to ourselves.  If we truly live our lives, our children are free to live theirs (Hollis).  Ultimately, living passionately provides greater consciousness, more choices and therefore more opportunities to forgive others and ourselves, because on one level or another all of us human beings have been idiots !


Love to Mother Meera.  One for all and all for one.

Peter Milhado


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