In my early 20s I read a psychological essay that had a profound effect on my life. The article discussed the difference between the Personal Shadow, the Cultural Shadow, and the Universal Shadow. The Personal Shadow includes the part of our personality that we don’t want to look at. In other words, it includes those shortcomings we don’t want others to see – we even have to hide it from ourselves: namely our selfishness, our greed, our arrogance, our grandiosity, our cruelty, and so forth. The Cultural Shadow deals with those personality traits specific to our ethnic background–so we speak of an American Shadow, a German Shadow, an Argentinean Shadow, a British Shadow, and so forth.
These shadow traits are usually projected onto another culture. For example, how often have we heard our politicians say, “Those Russians are really barbarians”—forgetting the many barbaric cruelties we in our American culture have committed ourselves in the last 300 years. Finally, the article talked about the Universal Shadow, which is shared by all human beings, and includes our collective darkness and our feelings of superiority over nature and other species–for which we are beginning to pay such a heavy price. Carl Jung’s notion was that the individual human being first has to deal with and become conscious of his or her Personal Shadow. Secondly, individuals have to integrate and differentiate their Cultural Shadow and, finally, their Universal Shadow. The evolution of integrating, first the Personal, secondly the Cultural, and lastly the Universal Shadow, is a movement in consciousness that leads to healing and a more soulful life.
The insight I received from this essay was that I was blasted and inundated with my Cultural Shadow before I had had a chance to work on and become conscious of my Personal Shadow.
Let me explain, and, if the reader will allow, share part of my personal history.
I was born in 1947, a couple of years after World War II ended, in a small town in southern Germany which was mostly inhabited by farmers and peasants.
My father was an American GI and my mother a local German woman. For the first 12 years of my life, I was raised by my mother and grandparents in a working-class environment. At age 13, my life changed drastically. My father took my mother and me out of our hometown, and it seemed that almost overnight I was enrolled in an American Junior High School. I did not speak English at the time. Needless to say, the transition was difficult. I was confronted with my Germanness directly, and, at times, visciously. Being German was, and is, not popular. The obvious reason is that we, as a people, transgressed all boundaries of human behavior and decency 60 years ago. I was, not only confronted by my peers in regards to my German Shadow being called a “nazi” but also by the media —- Whenever evil occurs anywhere on our globe, it was and is compared to Nazi Germany.
As a 13-year-old boy, I dealt with this shock mostly by denying my German heritage–I learned English very quickly. As Germans were known to be bad and evil, I unconsciously used the defense of compensation and developed a personality that was excessively pleasing and acquiescent to others. Every once in a while I would get disgusted with myself, and, as the years went on, made sure everyone around me knew I was German. But mostly, I denied my heritage and hid in shame. Obviously, the price for self betrayal is very high. So when I read the Shadow essay in my early 20s, I was deeply moved. It helped me begin to understand the confusion and pain I felt in those years, and I started turning my attention to my inner life. However, it was not until years later, when I had to seriously confront my own personal Shadow in analysis, that I felt much better and stronger. An honest look in the mirror is always healing. At this point, I was able to confront my cultural German Shadow and began to consciously acknowledge and integrate my German roots–both the bad and the good .I read Hermann Hesse, Goethe,Willy Brandt and listened to Bach and Beethoven, It was liberating, which is always the case for anyone seriously taking up the inner work. Any psychotherapy worth its salt has to confront the shadow problem.
When I started college in 1966 I was a jock on a soccer scholarship majoring in criminology. After I read that paper I still played soccer but I started to hang out with people who listened to “Country Joe and the Fish”, “the Band” and “Dylan”. I changed my major to psychology.
After completing a master’s degree in 1973 I did my internship in the out-patient Department of Psychiatry at the U.S Army hospital in Berlin. I worked with soldiers, many of whom were Vietnam vets, and their families. I was a rookie and didn’t know shit from shinola. I was totally overwhelmed by the undercurrents of racism, severe addiction and violence which could explode any minute….and did. Luckily I was supervised by dedicated professionals who took me on as an apprentice and began to teach me our vocation. These supervisors were trained in Transactional Analysis, Gestaltian therapy, Behavioral techniques and especially Freudian psychoanalysis.
After 3 years in Berlin I returned to the U.S. and found work in Los Angeles working with gang kids. It was another year in the trenches…. lots of pain, frustration and rage at the horror and stupidity of impersonal violence. Working in the trenches is part of the initiation process of a psychologist in our country as it should be. After 4 years on the front lines I found job as a counselor in a college running a federal program working with poor American folks and recent immigrants from Russia, VietNam and Latin America.
It was challenging but also rewarding and considerably less stressful. I also studied and received my California counseling license and began to tackle a phd program in psychology. In 1979 I opened my private practice in Los Angeles. During this time my marriage ended and I started my own psychotherapeutic enterprise, which had a most profound impact on my life and profession. I deepened my knowledge of the unconscious, the meaning of dreams, and the dark side within and how this impacted my life and the life of my patients. Carl Jung’s work was a great influence. I was taught by renegade Jungians. Here is what Jung had to say about the education of a psychologist.
“Therefore anyone who wants to know the human psyche would be better advised to bid farewell to his study and wander with human heart through the world. There, in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the stock exchanges, socialist meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than textbooks a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with real knowledge of the human soul.” (Jung, 1966, p. 409)
Over the years the L.A. culture and collective atmosphere became too impersonal and oppressive. In 1992 I moved to a small village called Ojai 20 miles east up into the hills of Ventura California. I have a general practice seeing folks from different walks of life. Somehow a lot of artists and folks in the middle of life end up in my office.
Do You Have a Steppenwolf Inside of You ?
by Peter Rudolf Milhado, Ph.D.
In my thirty-five years of practice in psychotherapy, never have I seen and experienced as much fear, anxiety, and emotional pain as I have in the last six months of 2008. The collective psychic atmosphere was dark, sinister and threatening. By the end of the year, I was exhausted bordering on depletion. I was tired…so I took two weeks off to do absolutely nothing. It was a good decision. At dawn, I walked into Java and Joe’s for a steaming cup of coffee, perused the paper, watched Ojai slowly wake-up and then wandered back to my cabin in the orange groves. I spent many hours every day staring into a mesmerizing and healing campfire in my backyard. Sometimes friends would come over, but mostly I needed to be by myself. To top it off, I read the brilliant and soulful German author Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf again, sentence by sentence, what a joy.
I had just finished the book when an old familiar Chevy van sputtered down the driveway. It was my old friend and hermano Luis Fernando Castillo III, better known in our circles as ‘Loco Luiee’.
“Hey Peter, are you still shrinking heads? You oughta be expandin’ ‘em, especially your own. Why don’t you get an honorable vocation ?!?!?” Luiee is a portly man in the mode of Friar Tuck and Falstaff and has the clearest eyes of any man I know. He was trained by the Jesuits, attained priesthood, has a keen intellect and a devilish grin. He was asked to leave the church after Gloria, an ebullient, enchanting and rubenesque black woman took him down to taste the sins of the flesh after her 17th confession right there in that tiny booth.
“Well, Hallelujah, Glory be… If it isn’t the church’s Don Juan or is it the Marquise de Sade ?” We go through a similar greeting ritual every time we meet. Luis walked over and we embraced.
“Good to see you brother… I brought some luscious red wine from Santo Tomas, Mexico. I live close by in Ensenada, my new wife and …”. He stopped mid-sentence when he saw my copy of Steppenwolf next to the campfire. “Holycow, I just finished reading that book… That’s one of the main reasons I spontaneously invited myself to your casa. Peter, I know we both have a strong wolf inside of us… mine is beginning to pull real hard on me and it’s complicating things with Angelina.”
I put more wood on the fire, opened a bottle of Luiee’s wine, played Van Morrison on the tape recorder, sat down and got ready for my old friend’s words. He’s a bit longwinded but always fascinating to me.
“Alright Luiee, your wolf already got you ex-communicated, and for the safety and grace of all human beings kept you out of the Vatican…what’s he up to now?…Cheers !”
“Salud companero. Like many artists I know, I feel like I am split into two personalities. One part of me loves family life and the security of belonging to a community. That was one of the reasons I joined the Jesuits. There is something attractive to the safety and contentment of belonging, whether it’s a religious order or now a middle-class life. Angelina has a large family and I love them all. But after a certain period of time I get more uneasy everyday and it steadily escalates into turbulent restlessness. The daily routines become empty and meaningless and soon I begin to choke on the contentment I searched out to begin with. The wolf starts howling with increasing intensity. He wants to go out and blaze a new trail, live with fiery passion and most of all he wants to be free. He hates the orderly suffocating dictates of middle-class life. Working for governmental or corporate bureaucracies would be the kiss of death for him. He has no social ambitions. He loves revolutionaries, artists, eccentrics and hates the silent majority and the temples they worship like malls, large arena sports events and television. My wolf, Peter, demands absolute freedom no matter the cost.”
Van Morrison just finished singing ‘I’m searching for the philosopher’s stone’. I was going to hit Luiee with Gregorian chants, but decided on Irish music instead. After we stared into the fire for a long time, Luiee continued,
“These two parts of my personality have always wreaked havoc in my intimate relationships. When women fall in love with the educated, responsible, slightly off-beat but yet dedicated and apparently civilized man, they were first aghast, then horrified and finally terribly disappointed when the wolf showed up with zero regard for social conventions. There were other women who fell in love with the wildness, freedom, dangerous strength and untameability of the wolf in me, but couldn’t handle it when I just wanted to be still, reclusive, listen to Bach and Mozart and quietly settle down. I brought unhappiness to all of those women and they to me…So how are you handling your wolf ? I do know this…you were an absolute madman in your younger days. Remember the times I came for visits when you lived in the San Fernando Valley ? You were in your early years of practice, slept in your office in that high rise by bribing the security guards downstairs with cases of Corona. We’d head down Highway 101 in your VW camper on a Friday afternoon. When we got close to the 405 you’d ask me to flip a coin….Heads left to Vegas, tails right to Tijuana. Thank God we went to Tijuana most of the time. So tell me… in regards to your wolf…do you have a grip on him ?”
“I don’t think we can ever have a total grip on Steppenwolf. Quite a few years back I had a powerful nighttime dream where this bulky, trembling, enraged hairy wolf-man was locked up in the small Ojai jailhouse in Libby Park. He was rattling the bars with all his might getting ready to break free. When I told this dream to a friend/brother/mentor of mine he walked over, got close to my face, looked in my eyes and whispered, ‘Keep that wolf on a leash, man !’ He was right, of course, and I try to do that…most of the time successfully these days, but every once in a while I gotta let him run. It’s essential that I stay conscious and drink three glasses of wine instead of eight…get the drift? Only consciousness and humor, especially the self-effacing kind, will help us carry the ambiguity of our inner wolf, otherwise he has the potential to take us down.”
“I know that Peter. It’s like the greed possessed get destroyed by greed, the power possessed by power, the passive/submissives by service and if our wolf is successful in his uncompromising demand for absolute freedom, with his lack of relatedness, we’ll eventually choke on our loneliness and die alone.”
Luiee stayed three days. He was a godsend and a blessing at the end of my vacation. As he drove out, he screamed, “I’ll miss you Peter.” I yelled back, “I love you too, Luis. Next time bring Angelina.”
One for all and all for one Love to Mother Meera