“I think the healthy way to live is to make friends with the beast inside oneself, and that means not the beast but the shadow. The dark side of one’s nature. Have fun with it and you know, is to accept everything about ourselves.”
– Anthony Hopkins
I love that quote! So many people look at the process of integrating the Shadow as frightening, difficult and painful. But you can also have some fun with it – if you understand what’s happening.
Our awareness and integration of the Shadow follows certain stages.
Stage One: I See the Enemy! In this first stage, you are conscious of the external projection, the not-me. Some textbooks on Jungian psychology call this “the crusader phase” because when you see it out there and you have that desire to squash it. You want to destroy whatever it is because it reminds you of what you should not be or don’t want it to be. So the avowed pacifist will see violence; the ardent environmentalist will see polluters; the loving parent will see child abuse.
In this stage, you’ll know that you’re reacting to your Shadow if something or someone really angers or frightens you. Personally, I’d say that any irritation or annoyance also points to a Shadow issue. It’s just not as extreme. You might find yourself denying this reaction. You claim to “be cool with it” when you really want to choke someone!
If you stay in this first stage where the Shadow is “out there,” you can’t resolve the Shadow. This is especially true if you actively fight against that Shadow quality and become a crusader: “Let’s go get those bad guys. I’m going to make my life about making those people miserable.”It may seem virtuous to fight evil, but it can leave you stuck.
Mother Teresa was pretty smart about the Shadow. Most people think of her as a strong pacifist. But she said, “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.” She had figured out that being “anti” something doesn’t work, doesn’t resolve the Shadow. As George Foreman once said, “I’ve seen George Foreman shadow boxing and the shadow won.”
The best way to get through this first stage is to become aware of the Shadow and to be aware of any inappropriate or unwarranted emotional outbursts that seem out of proportion to their source. The Shadow comes from the unconscious and is resolved in the unconscious. The barometer is your feelings.
Stage Two: We’re Surrounded!
In talking about this stage, my father used to say, “We’ve been infiltrated!” You’ve seen the enemy and now the enemy is within a close proximity. It’s no longer just out there in the world. It’s close now. It’s within our family. It’s within our business or workplace. It’s at church or the dentist. It’s moving in, circling closer and closer — and it’s very uncomfortable when it’s close.
A classic example of this is McCarthyism in the 1950’s when Senator Joseph McCarthy led the“Red Scare”campaign against communism. During this time, the US was fighting communism around the world and Americans were genuinely afraid of a potential communist take-over. In early 1950, McCarthy made a speech saying that the communists had already infiltrated not only the country, but our government itself. He claimed to have a specific list of traitors and began a vicious four-year witch hunt to unearth more“enemies of the people.” McCarthy whipped the entire country up into “seeing”communism – the most prominent projection of the Shadow to the American public at that time — on every corner.
Has that ever happened to you? You decide to become vegan and suddenly everyone close to you is slamming down quarter pounders. You get concerned about child abuse and suddenly you can’t go anywhere without seeing some adult slap a child. The whole world seems to conspire to stick that Shadow right in your face! We can get through this phase best by remembering that what we see and react against is a projection of the Shadow, no matter how uncomfortable that feels to admit.
In both of these stages, if you have a certain comfort level with basic “perception is projection,” you’ll have an easier time of it. Perception is projection basically says that what you see out there is never an objective reality. It is always filtered and colored by your internal beliefs.
Stay tuned next time when we’ll cover the next three stages: It’s Me, Mea Culpa, and finally, It’s All Okay.
Until then, have fun recognizing your Shadow!