Have you ever found yourself doing something that you felt was totally out of character? Perhaps you got into an argument and suddenly physically attacked someone, much to your surprise and horror. Or you felt a surge of an intense emotion such as jealousy or rage that seemed alien, like it wasn’t coming from you. It was as if someone or something else had taken over your body and mind and you were no longer in control.
Hello, meet your shadow.
Everybody has a shadow. While the shadow part of our personality can do much damage, this doesn’t mean it is evil. In fact, it can be a source of much creativity and insight, if we engage it consciously. Psychiatrist Carl Jung stated that it is healthy to have a good balance between our shadow (the part of our personality that we repress) and our persona (the mask we wear in the world to fit into society’s norms).
Our personality is healthy when there is a balance of opposing tendencies: extraversion balanced by some introversion; kindness and self-sacrifice balanced by some selfishness and aggression. The problem comes when we deny our shadow, or are unaware of it. If not made conscious, stuff from our shadow can develop into a complex, which hijacks us and our relationships, and traps us in dysfunctional patterns of reactivity.
Know your shadow
So how can we know more about our shadow and its contents? Because it is unconscious, we are likely unaware of its presence. Here are some suggestions:
- Talk to someone close to you that you trust: your best friend, spouse/partner, sibling, close family member; someone with integrity and who knows you well. Chances are, they’ve seen you being seized by the complexes that constitute your shadow. And if they are comfortable being honest with you, they could give you insight into this part of your personality.
- Pay close attention to your dreams: write them down or draw images that appear in them, maybe even join a dream group. The characters, plots, and situations that show up in our dreams can give us clues about the contents of our shadow.
- If you feel ready to have an intimate relationship with your shadow, find out about Jungian analysts or certified dream therapists in your area. When we decide to explore our unconscious, it is a good idea to have a guide and witness to help us navigate through the dark, deep reaches of our psyche. If you are a trauma survivor, however, it is recommended that you see a trauma therapist and work on the trauma before starting on shadow or dream work.
Embrace your whole personality, the good, the bad, the ugly. It all makes up who you are. Work on parts you want to change while allowing all parts to balance one another. Honor your shadow; it balances your light.