Keep Your Head Up When Your Neck is Dirty

by Peter Milhado PHD on April 17, 2010

Reflections on the Dark Side of Our Personalities.

shadow-faceOne 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 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 militants” and “do gooders”, they usually have a mean streak a mile long. The more we’re identified with our glorified and wonderful social roles (our personas), the more likely we become cold, cynical and even cruel.

People who are on a genuine 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 imagining 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 dreams 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 either to repress and not own it or to express it in manipulation or 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 Goethe 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 to an idiot in the house – forgive it, again and again…forever.”

Peter Milhado © 2010

These articles are also published in our local paper the

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Russell April 18, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Hey Peter – Thanks for the touching article… it’s a gift. I noticed a couple of *Pings* to my ego as I read this… it hates to be revealed! And that’s why it’s a gift.

Somewhere I heard that in most of mankind the ego is in the drivers seat, yet the seat is far too large for such a small thing as the ego. Only when we connect with our spirit and allow that fullness to take the throne can we we truly live. The ego has it’s place, but it’s off to the sidelines… in a much smaller chair.

I have noticed many thoughts arise when I am working at my home… in my garage doing my trade (as a rug-maker). Many of these thoughts are caught red-handed by my observing nature – they are completely ego-based and as I catch them I place them in the small chair and pat them on the back… but I don’t believe them.

Other thoughts arise and they are connected to past relationships and the deeds and misdeeds of others. I spent my first years of shadow work forgiving the hurts and pains caused to me by others – and the occasional admittance of my own shadowy nature.

Now, here’s what I’m noticing with my most recent thoughts – I’m noticing that they are mainly about my own inadequacies and failures in certain events. I can also see where it’s necessary to forgive… over and over again until they reside. Otherwise, why would they continue to arise?

So now I am learning to say ” I am what I am, and I accept that’. It’s time to play… to create… and to forgive.

Be well Maestro!

John Anthony Miller II April 18, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Great article and a great Arthur Miller quote. From von Goethe-another quote comes to mind from his deep thinking brain: “There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” A million variations on that theme.
Love from “The Rockin’ Owl,” soaring through The Shadowland with Excaliber and Athena. Jeanne d’Arc watches…

Peter Milhado PHD April 19, 2010 at 11:10 am

hi russ regarding the ego , let s give the kid a job. see u in june in the mountains get a campfire ready peter

hi john anthony the variables are infinite let s have a good time in the meantime onward peter

Diana May 23, 2010 at 6:27 pm

(to Russel’s comment) Ha! Oh yeah, my ego was “pinged” too.

I’ve never heard “ping” used that in that clever way before… : ) but boy is he good at it!

Dr. Peter Rudolph Milhado
Ego Pinger Extriordinnare

hey where’s the spell check?

anonymous June 29, 2010 at 10:13 am

Years ago I went to a counselor when I was going through a divorce. I was full of shame because of an affair and couldn’t bring myself to talk about it. She asked me to go out the door and then come back in (something like a fresh/restart) and then I blurted it out. I was liberated in the most curious way. I was still sad that I had hurt someone but I was free. Today my new counselor (fast forward 25 years and I now dealing with aging parents so I again started counseling) I wish I could be free enough to share the dirt. There isn’t much but I crave to be allowed to be so honest with someone. Thank you for your article.

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