Volumes have been written about the Shadow defining it, disparaging it, leading us toward using it, and blaming it for the difficulties we encounter in our lives. But with so many approaches and perceptions of it I think its presence has been defocused, misunderstood and misaligned while relegating it to being a scapegoat for our inability to measure up to our own expectations of what we have been taught we should want, be and accomplish. I think its existence is much simpler than what we’ve assumed it to be.
In the field of psychology Carl Jung is acknowledged as its primary proponent defining it simply as the parts of ourselves that we feel are unacceptable by the judgment of others and then either denying them or projecting them onto others whom we feel are unacceptable or challenge our desired image of ourselves.
Rather than convoluting its meaning further with more polarizing dialogue, I’d like to approach the concept from another more basic and seemingly unrelated perspective.
Who were you before you were born? I’m not talking about from any religious, philosophical or spiritual perspective but from the purely practical point of what we were aware of or part of before we were born.
In Utero we are completely connected to our mother physically and feeling wise (I hesitate using the word emotionally as it involves other implications much too lengthy to cover here). While we are being carried by our mother and whatever our mother goes through with her body or her feelings we are totally receptive to and are part of. There is no separation. At this point in our development our mind has not yet been activated. We are two people sharing the same experience in almost every way. The only difference is that our mother is mentally active. Empathy between us is in full swing. We feel each others feelings completely. At this point we are not even aware that there is such a thing as being separate. Then, the unimaginable occurs. We are shot into the world like a cannon where we are separated from our warmth, nurturance, protection, food and comfort; truly a traumatic experience. Once we feel the separation from all that we were and had, we can only imagine the intensity of the urge that springs up within us to return to the oblivious comfort we just emerged from. This urge, though it eventually becomes overshadowed by the activating mind (no pun intended), never leaves us. This urge to return to oblivion can be called Thanatos or what was coined by Freud as the “death instinct.” Look up the mythology of Thanatos (death) and his twin brother Hypnos (sleep). You’ll find some interesting correlations.
As an infant our urge to remerge with our mother has been undeniably intense. But as we grow we begin to make connections to others presenting a pale reflection of that most important passed symbiotic union. These pale reflections feel better than not having any connections and slightly diminish the intensity of the urge to remerge which is now slowly sinking our raw and indescribable feelings into the unconscious and replacing them with the rationality of our rapidly developing and polarized awakening mind. By the time most of us have reached puberty we have become almost totally unaware of our urge to remerge. With this urge is now well buried, all that is left is our attraction toward the pale reflection of our connection to others resulting in the search for other supporting unions and relationships. These raw submerged feelings have been replaced by and transmuted to our need for love, approval and acceptance. As we gain love, approval and acceptance from others the pain of our separation becomes somewhat lessened. Our connection to others is felt by degree. Simple acceptance by others lessens the feeling of separation slightly. While on the other end of the scale, orgasm lessens the feeling of separation much more dramatically and intensely bringing us the closest to the feeling of remerging than any other experience save deep meditation.
When we are refused those connections to others, we perceive the enforced separation as their judgments of our worthiness to be loved, approved of or accepted. It is our rational mind that interprets the separation in terms of unworthiness. With that self-assessment in place the mind then springs into action looking for reasons to validate the separation or disconnect from others. The reasons we rationalize become the qualities that we decide are unacceptable about ourselves. I’m not good looking enough, I’m incompetent, I’m not smart enough, just to name a few. The mind then either denies our ownership of those qualities or, more often, finds someone else to project them on in order to shed them from our own self-image. These qualities then become our Shadow.
When we look at our projected and denied Shadow qualities we can see how we feel unloved, disapproved of and unaccepted. But these Shadow qualities are our mental interpretations and are representative of our submerged and transmuted urge to form unions with others replacing our urge to remerge with our mothers simply to feel loved, nurtured and protected again in that place of oblivion where we felt no separation. Our attraction to the opposite sex represents the strongest part of that urge and is augmented by our hormonal states. Our urge for sex can simply be seen as the most effective way to remerge.
There is one other perspective relative to our Shadow that I’d like to share. When we affirm admiration for others who are personifying our goals and ideals, there may be a similar dynamic taking place. If we possess a quality that we admire and project that quality onto another, we may be projecting that quality away from our image for fear of either being unable to develop or realize that quality in ourselves by virtue of feeling inadequate or are fearful of how we might have to change if we actually owned it. We can view this perspective in terms of what our culture commonly calls fear of success.
Our Shadow is not an aspect of ourselves to be feared or avoided. On the contrary, it is one of our best indicators of what we need to address in ourselves in order to feel whole and creative, not to mention contributing toward improving our unions and connections with others. The best part is when we are able to recognize that the Shadow is merely the result of a transformed urge to reunite with our source. Being aware becomes a distinct advantage through pulling our refused, submerged and projected qualities back into the light of our awareness so they can’t operate from behind the scenes and below our threshold of awareness. In addressing them, there are no more curve balls or surprises in our reactions to and with others.