creator of the Pogo cartoon strip
In my last blog, I started talking about the Shadow and how to recognize it. The Shadow is everything that reminds you of what you really don’t like or think just isn’t good or right. It’s what you are really trying to not be.
In the first stage of integrating, you project your Shadow “out there” in the world. It’s anything that angers, upsets or even just plain irritates you. The Shadow of an avowed feminist might be weak females or cultures that subjugate women. A dedicated good citizen might be sensitive to crooks or even jaywalkers.
By the second stage, the Shadow projection seems to be coming closer. “We’ve been infiltrated. It could be anyone!” You start seeing whatever it is that pushes your buttons all around you. This is the stage that become a like witch hunt: You protect yourself from the Shadow by accusing everyone around you of being that “evil” thing.
The truth is, the vast majority of people never get beyond these two stages. Evil remains “out there” and we refuse to admit that we hold these Shadow qualities within us. The problem with this approach is that by denying the Shadow, you deny a large part of yourself. You remained blocked creatively, spiritually, emotionally, even sexually! By integrating the Shadow, you can become fully expressed and alive, or as Jung described it, “self-actualized.”
In this blog, I’ll talk about the next stage and how to move through it.
Stage Three: The third phase is in a sense trickier than the first two stages. It’s when you realize that the quality or traits you most hate is actually within you. This realization creates great internal conflict with the values you cherish and beliefs you have about yourself.
The conflict of Stage Three can show up in a number of ways. For example, say a politician has publicly grandstanded against gays and lesbians. Then suddenly it’s revealed that he’s been involved in same-sex liaisons for years. (This is just hypothetical of course. This would never happen, right?) In this case, the person tried so hard to deny his Shadow that it had to burst forth and act out, almost out of control!
The conflict of Shadow traits within us can also show up as extreme guilt. An honest woman may feel wracked with guilt simply because she feels tempted to embezzle from her company. Rather than accept that desire – and that it isn’t necessary to act out on it – she may internalize the projection and begin perceiving herself as bad or flawed.
The key here is to be proactive about recognizing your Shadow projections and accepting that they are part of you.
It’s important to note that the Shadow may not be an exact match to what irritates or angers you. Your Shadow might be a larger concept and what irks you is just an example of it. For example, a student of mine used to get really bent out of shape because “people are so messy.” His “enemy” left her dirty dishes in the sink and her shoes all over the place. When he looked at that, he really couldn’t see that he himself was messy. So I asked him, “What is messy an example of?” He decided that messiness was a sign of being inconsiderate. “And what is inconsiderate an example of?” In his mind, it was an example of not caring about others or being self-centered. And this was the Shadow that really bothered him. At that point, he had to question himself: “Am I uncaring or self-centered?”
Acceptance becomes the key here. Of course, you’re selfish and self-centered! We all are, at least sometimes. It’s part of being human. And by accepting that, this student was able to recognize what he hadn’t been expressing in his life: He was so concerned about being caring of others that he wasn’t really taking care of himself. He actually needed to be a bit more Self-centered.
Another example: One of my close friends, Kathy Singh became a vegan, and immediately became a righteous vegan. “As soon as I became a vegan, I suddenly saw everyone else around me eating meat,” she said. “I hadn’t noticed it before. I didn’t realize how many people ate meat. And I thought I had to take up a cause.” (Stage one and Two)
But after a while, she noticed something else: “I realized that they had something that I didn’t have. They could go to any restaurant and eat something. They had a flexibility that I so desperately desired, an ability to express themselves.” It took her a while, but finally she figured out how to give herself that flexibility too.
That Shadow behavior you see in others and finally in yourself is not appearing because your unconscious mind wants to torment you. It’s appearing to signal you that a part of you is craving expression.
In my own example, I remember years ago having a strong reaction to stories about rape. I’d flash on some newscast talking about someone who had been sexually assaulted and I’d just lose it. I talked it through with my father and it was clear to both of us that I didn’t harbor some deep desire to assault someone. So I did a lot of soul searching.
Suddenly, it dawned on me that, in the relationship I was in at the time, I had no freedom of expression within our intimacy. I had no freedom to say, “Here’s what I enjoy. Here’s what I don’t enjoy.” I felt almost a shame and a fear, a fear that translated into anger, about expressing who and what I was.
To bring this conflict to my attention, my Shadow put the most extreme of what I am not out there in front of me. It might seem easier to ignore this kind of thing. To avoid it rather than to truly critically look at yourself and say, “If this is bothering me so much, what do I need to know?” But the price of avoiding the Shadow’s messages is living an unsatisfying, unexpressed life.
Stay tuned until next time when we’ll cover the next two stages: Mea Culpa, and finally, It’s All Okay.
This final quote could describe the perfect approach to our Shadow:
“To the artist there is never anything ugly in nature.”
Be an artist with your life and until next time, have fun noticing the Shadow within!