By Rawan Albina
Have you watched “Maleficent” the Disney movie with Angelina Jolie? I watched it the other day and the symbolism of the hero and the villain was so striking that I just had to write about it. It was such a strong representation of the ‘Shadow’ that Carl G. Jung, the Swiss Psychiatrist spoke about in his work.
Have you heard the quote that says “the qualities that bother you the most in others are actually those that you don’t like about yourself”? Well I had heard it many times before and it never really made any sense to me until I came across the shadow concept.
Shadow is the unknown dark side of our personality; the counterpart to what Jung called the ‘Persona’ or ‘Conscious Ego’ personality. “In Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” may refer to an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself, because one tends to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of one’s personality…” (As defined in Wikipedia). According to Jungian analyst Aniela Jaffe, the shadow is the ‘‘sum of all personal and collective psychic elements which, because of their incompatibility with the chosen conscious attitude, are denied expression in life.” Whatever we deem unacceptable or evil and we deny in ourselves becomes part of the shadow. It basically “contains all those qualities we hide from ourselves and others, but which remain active within the unconscious.”
How does the shadow develop and where does it come from?
It is the result of social inadequacy and a narrow view of oneself vis à vis the outside world. “Jung claimed the shadow itself was the result of a narrow identification with the persona—the social mask, at the expense of the unattended aspects of the self (Bennett, 1966). As individual attention is habitually and excessively focused on the façade of the persona, the deeper, neglected aspects of the personality continually sabotage the individual’s conscious intentions (Jung, 1959, p. 123). In order to account for these frustrations, while also avoiding their true source, the shadow is conveniently projected onto other people (Bennett, 1966), resulting in what can often be perceived as threatening and unfriendly circumstances (Wilber, 1979)” *
What does all of this really mean?
It means that as we were growing up, the family, society or culture we were living in, by accepting only certain aspects of who we are, dictated who we would become. As young children we want to please people because we believe that by doing so we are loved in return. To please others, we hide the parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of, lock them behind closed doors and throw away the key. Still, those parts are still integral to who we are even if we don’t consciously realize it. What bothers us in others acts as a trigger, a reminder that there is a shadow part of us that we are denying, the existence of which we completely ignore but is essential for our survival.
“I looked, and looked, and this I came to see:
That what I thought was you and you,
Was really me and me.” (Wilber, 1979)
So how do we deal with the shadow? Do we completely deny it and move on or do we understand it and embrace it?
“Would you rather be whole or good?” Asked Jung.
The shadow must never be dismissed and considered as evil or unwanted. It is an integral part of who we are; we must understand it, accept it and assimilate it into our being. The shadow does not only represent negative aspects of who we are. Given the chance to express itself, it can manifest its gifts in many ways through creative outlets or true spirituality. Understanding and embracing our shadow is the only way for us to become whole. Yes, it is a difficult road to take and it does mean that we have to deal with internal frustrations but we must tolerate this conflict within and treat the shadow with the respect it deserves. Although Maleficent is based on a myth, a fairytale, she embodies the true expression of one’s shadow and how we can become whole, once we fully embrace it.
Therefore, the next time someone triggers your anger or frustration, before passing judgment onto them, stop for a moment and consider the message they’re trying to relay to you, for their face hides in your shadow.
*Reference iEric2010 Education and Science- Carl Jung and the Shadow: An Introduction
**For further reading on the shadow I recommend the book “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers” by Debbie Ford.
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