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


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