Discovering Our Shadows and Demons
We use many metaphors to refer to our dark side: discovering our demons, the dark night of the soul, our fight with the devil, alter ego, shadow, etc., but I like to refer to it more as the big sack we all drag around.
An invisible sack that accompanies us throughout life, which we start to toss around from a young age. It includes all the facets of our personality, including those that displeased the people around us as well as those that seemed to make us worthy of their love.
“Each of us casts a much darker, compact shadow every
time we find ourselves less embedded in our conscious life. This shadow
is, for all purposes, an unconscious impairment that spoils our best intentions.”
-Carl Gustav Jung-
Filling the sack
As we go through life, we being to assign value to our personality traits. Sympathy or good manners, for example, are what we try to identify ourselves with, while, on the other hand, we banish those qualities which are not suited to our ideal image such as selfishness and jealousy, frustration or painful experiences. We push those traits deep down into the sack.
Every culture and every family has their own way determining what belongs in the shadow. Some allow the expression of anger, aggression, sexuality or intense emotions, while others will not.
So our sack continues to grow; just like our family, our culture or society, especially during the first twenty years of our lives, and the rest of the time we spend trying to empty it….
And the more packed our bag is, the more things we throw into it, the less energy we have in our daily lives.
And then, when you least expect it, everything we’ve placed in our sack emerges as one big shadow with a great deal of hostility. When we refuse to accept a part of our personality, it turns hostile, like someone who has organized a rebellion against us.
The neglected parts of ourselves
Thus, the shadow can be understood as those qualities that we do not accept of ourselves. Those that when we look in the mirror do not become visible in our reflection, because we only see what we want to see.
And although the feelings and characteristics that are banished to the shadows feed the hidden power of the dark side of human nature, not all of them are negative. The shadow not only hosts emotional attachments, our childishness or neurotic symptoms, but also contains qualities and potential capabilities that have not been manifested. We forget them and banish them to the depths of our minds, but they don’t stay buried forever, and emerge in unexpected situations.
We cannot perceive the shadow directly, because it flees from the light of consciousness. But the next time that you find yourself reacting strongly to the personality or characteristic of another person — whether positively or negatively — consider that you could in fact be projecting. That is, you react to those qualities in others that you subconsciously identify as part of your dark side.
Therefore, to discover some features of our shadow we need to examine what traits and/or attitudes bother us or what we like disproportionately from others and to what extent they affect us. We need to ask ourselves, What do we project of ourselves to others?
Reconciling with our shadow
Retrieving our shadow, therefore, implies that we confront it and integrate its content in a more comprehensive and complete picture of ourselves, ignoring our rigidness and our fears. This process usually happens when we see our that our life is stagnant and that we’ve lost interest in it and its meaning.
Working with our shadow is the voluntary and conscious process of shining light on whatever we previously ignored or suppressed. It allows us to heal our relationship problems, throwing light into the darkness by penetrating our inner self and integrating it.
When we accept our cruelest aspects, we deepen our most positive strengths. Reconciliation with our devils or internal enemies, does not eliminate them, but it does change the relationship we have with them.
When our strength discovers its own vulnerability and realizes that apart from the light we also have complex shadows, when we stop believing that the responsibility for all the evils are exterior, when we become aware that the ability to do evil is also stored somehow within us, we can make peace with our shadow and navigate safely through adversity and misfortune.
Because when we maintain the right relationship with our shadow, the unconscious ceases to be dangerous, and as Jung said, “the shadow is only dangerous when we do not pay attention to it.”
Connie Zweig. (1991). Meeting the Shadow. The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature. Barcelona: Editorial Kairos.