Sunday, January 29, 2006

The Dark Side

Dan, my old college roommate, offers this interesting post on the Jungian concept of the shadow. It makes for provocative reading! Here's a short excerpt to whet your appetite:

The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge. (Aion, 1951, in Collected Works 9, Part II, p. 14)


Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Me and my shadow.

I know that side very well.
I don't think one can be a good therapist without knowing those dark aspects.

Nice post.

jw said...

I wonder how the shadow merges with the "They're not really people" of the day. How does the personal shadow extend into demonizing an entire sub-group of people?

Does it make a person feel good to throw contempt at a group of humans? Why?

What does this say about Maureen Dowd and her contempt for males?

Lots of questions, few answers ...

Psych Pundit said...

Deb -

I agree: Effective therapists need to be keenly aware of own potential for 'darkness' lest they be blindsided by it!

JW -

Ethicist Peter Singer has observed (based on good anthropological and psychological evidence) that we all tend spontaneously to divide the world up into "In Group" (people like me) and "Out Group", with the latter category generally demonized and regarded as unworthy of empathy.

It's probably a small step, then, for a person to project their own unwanted, unsavory (and unrecognized) shadowy characteristics onto those in the Out Group. It's no coincidence that researchers find those with the lowest self-regard to be the people most inclined to virulent racial prejudice.

jw said...

How then does Emerson's "All men are my superiors in that I may learn of them" fit into the shadow? (Applies to women too)

For my own part, I dislike individuals based on their actions: People on the other hand ... how could I like or dislike them? I don't know them.

It seems to me that Singer's ideas have merit up to a certain point; in that, many will make a concious choice to reject part of the shadow. Without choice, Singer's concept becomes silly.

Cheryl Fuller, Ph.D. said...

In A Little Book of the Human Shadow (1988) Robert Bly describes the shadow as a bag that we drag along behind us into which we put any “not me” parts, aspects of ourselves we do not want to own or embrace. Each of us is our own version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The further away we push those darker aspects of ourselves, the more primitive they become.

It is also far easier to see Shadow in another than to see it in ourselves and know that what we say of others is to greater or lesser degree true of us as well.

Psych Pundit said...


Yes, I like the way you've put this. We all have 'blind spots' - traits and characteristics that we just can't (or won't) see in ourselves, and so often those are the very things that we WILL recognize and deplore in others.

My own take on it is: the sooner we recognize our own potential for darkness, the sooner we're able to resist it, turning to those 'better angels of our nature'!

Dan said...

Dr. Serani - I agree wholeheartedly, and would go further to say that anyone who wants to be an enlightened individual needs to know (and admit!) their dark aspects.

Dr. Fuller - liked the Bly reference. Of course, he's done much to popularize various Jungian concepts and re-introduce the mythic into our awareness. Given your background, I'd guess you're probably familiar with Joseph Campbell's work as well? I know there are differing opinions about his work, but I think he's a great entry point for folks wanting to learn more about the mythic.

And Dr. Pundit, thanks for the link, and I'm glad to see your regular devotees seem to have enjoyed it. Naturally, we do deplore our own shadow when we see it in others - in fact, that's one of the easiest ways to recognize it, by seeing what traits in other folks really set us off on an irrational tirade. Keep up the good work on your blog here.