On the Shadow Self
Or how that which we resist, persists
"Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is."
— Carl Jung
As much of life is an Upward Spiral, it's sometimes frustrating to find myself in such similar circumstances. Like — haven’t I learned this lesson by now?
Well, no, I guess not.
I guess, if I were to frame things in a more optimistic light, that frustration can become “interesting” — an opportunity to re-experience my past through a new frame of reference.
Frustrating because I obviously haven't let-go-of and moved-on-from a number of things which I would have preferred to have. Or at least would have preferred to have believed that I have.
These frustrating aspects are what Carl Jung called the Shadow Self. They’re the parts of ourselves which we avoid, deflect, project, and deny. They’re the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to face. The archetypes which are definitely a part of who we are, but not the “best” parts of who we are.
The problem with avoidance, deflection, projection, and denial is: “that which we resist persists”. It’s another one of Jung’s phrases which is a description of Magick, Law of Attraction, Buddhism, and a million other ways of describing the fact that it doesn’t matter our intention, any energy we give to something makes it stronger.
All of these theories (including modern psychology) agree on the same remedy:
Just accept it.
Imagine you are in third grade, in a schoolyard fight, where you have been called out by the school bully. You meet in the playground at 2:50pm, and all your classmates have formed a circle and are chanting “fight, fight, fight!”
The way we’ve been raised (philosophically termed “Western Thought”) is that this kid across from us is “Other”, and to keep our concept of “self”, we must oppose it, aggress it, defeat it. Only once we have emerged victorious can we have any sense of safety.
As adults, we can see how silly this is. They’re just kids! They don’t know any better! They don’t know the context behind why the bully is mean. They don’t know how insignificant this particular conflict is in the grand scheme of Life. They don’t know that we shouldn’t try to fight with each other, but try to find Common Ground.
OK, well, fast-forward to the present. And instead of third-grade you, you’re you-you. And instead of a bully, you’re facing your feelings of insecurity, addiction, loneliness, and mortality. Jung is like that school teacher interrupting the fight and telling you to be friends.
We don’t necessarily know why we have our own personal bullies — our Shadow Selves. It’s much easier to hate those parts of ourselves than it is to accept them. But only by letting down our guard, and being willing to make friends with the parts of ourselves that we’re not proud of, can we ever really progress as humans.
Easier said than done, though, right? How do we do that?
Well, therapy is a good starting point. No, seriously. Forget the stigmas, forget the Victim Mentality. Find a therapist who is willing to dig into some of those thoughts and emotions that we all have and really explore them. Because just like in that “Dark Thoughts” podcast, we only by discovering, understanding, and accepting the worst and scariest parts of ourselves can we ever change.
Accept first, change later.
But trying to change without accepting? That just makes it stronger.