Shadow: Exploring Our Dark Side

The other day Barry and I were having a conversation about life and people; let’s say he drove while I pretty much monologued; with brief moments of interjection; this worked well as it allowed me time to process my thoughts out loud. The discussion was based on people and human behavior. I was conversing about the conundrum life is and how we have this constant need to “prove” we are good, undamaged or holy.

The lies we tell ourselves (we all do; some more than others, some consciously and some unconsciously but we do it everyday) in order to survive another day within a dysfunctional society can be extensive. Of course if you have already “adjusted” to it, you may not relate but for those who are introspective, those who seek to discover more of self, life and its mysteries, it is another story. I don’t mean to sound condescending or rude but in my experience I have not met a single person in my whole life, whom once I got to know has not expressed a certain degree of “dysfunctionality”–it is natural, it is called being human; we are not cookie cut versions, neither did we grow up inside a bubble.

Sit down with an elderly who has experienced life; the elderly no longer have the desire to put on masks, they will tell you in their wisdom just how futile it is to live trying to please a society which cannot be pleased because we are all different. They will tell you how we are all flawed and that it is ok. They will tell you how we waste our lives trying to fit in, only to reach old age and live with regrets because we were so afraid to be ourselves, to be labeled flawed or sinners. Perhaps the reason I love sitting down with the elderly to converse is because they can be so raw, so honest and just say it as it is; more importantly they have lived; good or bad they have learned what really matters in life–why wouldn’t I want to listen to them?!

Why is it so hard to accept ourselves with all our imperfections? Who actually buys the b.s that someone’s life is “stable”? that would mean such life is robotic for life itself is not “stable”; it undulates–ups and downs. We tell ourselves if we have a job that pays well and we can showcase all the things we have, then we are “stable”; in our ignorance the majority of people emulate a system designed to make you produce yet it is not a system meant to help you look in, to find joy and peace–aspects of self which can only be achieved by confronting that which we ran away from. In reality, to be “stable” is to be sane enough to accept life’s instability and to find a center within ourselves that allows us to navigate life despite of all its ups and downs.

When I was doing my mentoring, day in and day out I saw “successful” people come out of my mentor’s office; sometimes hopeful, sometimes depleted–after all psychotherapy is not a quick fix therapy. For the first time in their lives, these people were taking the time to see aspects of self which they had denied and which were affecting the life they had built. Within my own practice, I have seen the same; no need to go that far, I have seen the same within my family, close friends but more importantly myself. No one who is passionate about being a therapist, coach or guide, gets into it because they are “happy” and they got their “shit” together in reality; as I learned by those who taught me, those who worked with me and by my own life experiences; one gets into helping people because you were hurt, because there are areas in your life that still hurt and which you seek to resolve. Any good therapist knows to help others you got to know what pain felt like, otherwise it is just textbook material and that can only lead so far. I chose soul therapy because it does not seek to cover our “faults” but rather to dig deep and help discover what is hidden beneath the piles of false conditioning and masks we impose on ourselves; in other words, it helps us recognize how we lie to ourselves.

“That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our lives as fate.” (Carl Jung)

Sadly people in our society are so busy running away from themselves, that to be around someone who isn’t, can be deeply uncomfortable and so they label and maliciously judge. They will encourage anyone not to look too closely because that would mean they would have to also look at their own lives; in other words… “What do you mean you lie to yourself? what do you mean you are assessing your life’s choices? are you crazy? It is just a midlife crisis. What do you mean you are not happy? Forget about it, focus on something else. Count your blessings and it will pass. Find a hobby. What do you mean is okay to feel pain? that is so negative. How can you say that out loud? people are going to judge you”…we hear things like these everyday, people trying to avoid life, worst yet, they are trying to avoid their real self. What they don’t seem to understand is we can’t run from ourselves, from our shadow; in attempting to do so we experience crisis after crisis at different intervals in life–that isn’t life punishing, that is life trying to help us look in and heal that which still bleeds internally.

“The shadow goes by many familiar names: the disowned self, the lower self, the dark twin or brother in bible and myth, the double, repressed self, alter ego, id. When we come face-to-face with our darker side, we use metaphors to describe these shadow encounters: meeting our demons, wrestling with the devil, descent to the underworld, dark night of the soul, midlife crisis.” Connie Zweig

Jung isn’t the first person to talk about the shadow, Freud had his own ideas own it too; however, neither one was the inventor of the philosophy, they simply rediscovered much older teachings; teachings meant to strip you of your false self and help you develop character and find your center–for without stripping self of falsities, then you are simply building on shallow or unstable ground and are living through a persona not through character. Character is part of your make up, which has to be developed based on your archetype. A persona is simply a mask, one you put on to be pleasing to others.

The shadow is an innate part of the human being but the majority of us are willfully blind regarding its existence. We hide our negative qualities from others and from ourselves. We do this by creating a “persona”, by telling ourselves we are better than the person who is experiencing a crisis or break down or that we are more stable than the “freak” who expresses himself openly. We have come to label people who don’t hide as freaks, misfits, maladjusted, unstable, etc. –but to maladjusted to a society so ill isn’t necessarily a bad thing. To seem unstable to a society which bases stability on “persona” (illusion) rather than the individual is more a compliment than an insult.

Most of us are still running around like little toddlers; if we do something cute to get a smile, we are rewarded with affection and attention and maybe even a price. We have parents who raise kids to be overly pleasing so they can be applauded as “good” parents; as if kids were ponies in a circus show. Other parents over shelter because they think that is healthy and others don’t shelter enough because they are either too focus on their ow problems or they just don’t care. There is no one method that guarantees we will raise our kids “well”— we will make mistakes–many of us will do so out of ignorance, desire to fit in or to ran away from ourselves; we feel consciously or unconsciously that we need to do better than our parents did. That is an amazing motivation, so long as you are not doing it to punish your parents because then your focus is really off. We all were kids; I don’t care how “great” was your childhood and adolescence; we all got hurt at one point or another. As children, we didn’t have the ability to understand this crazy model of society and the why behind people’s actions or inactions, nor did we posses the ability to asses what was and what wasn’t ours to own; as such we got hurt. Until we are willing to face that fact, until we are willing to face ourselves, we only give the dark aspect of our shadow more power.

“Man has to realize that he possesses a shadow which is the dark side of his own personality; he is being compelled to recognize his “inferior function”, if only for the reason that he is so often overwhelmed by it, with the result that the light world of his conscious mind and his ethical values succumb to an invasion by the dark side. The whole suffering brought upon man by his experience of the inherent evil in his own nature – the whole immeasurable problem of “original sin”, in fact – threatens to annihilate the individual in a welter of anxiety and feelings of guilt.” Erich Newmann

We are not as good as we tell ourselves we are…so what? it just means we are not perfect and perfect does not exist because it is based on perception; one can work on self, molding ourselves to our own raw character. The real problem is found when we believe ourselves to be as good and superior as our delusions of grandeur are. To top it off the mental struggle rises when on the other hand, we need to mask our inferiority complex with a false sense of modesty or humility. No wonder so many people don’t want to look in, their mind is already tired from trying to hold on to the internal mental yoyo which goes from one polar extreme to the other.

We are human–we do good things, we do bad things; it is part of life. What to some may seem good to someone else may seem bad and vice versa yet we still hammer ourselves into delusion. There are things in life which are black or white; they are very few yet very important. However, for the most part we go around flagellating ourselves over what I call our gentle sins— a term I learned from an old mentor and which resonated with my grandfather’s teachings. Our gentle sins refers to things which are born from a loving or genuinely good motivation yet others will find reason to judge it or label it as bad. Carl Jung wrote extensively on this; gentle sins are those which do not violate your authentic spirit (not what you have been conditioned to believe is good or bad) but rather help you expand–a mutual give and take with life vs. caging of self or the desire to hurt others (toxic or negative motivation).

The more we live in delusion, false modesty or abuse of self, the more the dark aspects of the shadow fight; this fight can be so intense that some feel as if they are possessed. That is the case for many addicts, they feel they are possessed because the dark aspect of their shadow has been denied for so long, the longer it is denied, the stronger it gets. The addict having been conditioned to believe that he or she can’t be “bad” or “sin” like that, will blame the external; which only fuels the dark side of the shadow more–this is what is called shadow possession or what some religions call possession (generally speaking). Many addicts feel this momentary “possession”; the only thing that is stopping them from recognizing their actions are theirs alone, based on deeper roots hidden within self; is the fact they don’t want to believe they could be so “bad”–to be that bad would mean to be damaged, unfit for the herd. They don’t know the very thing they are running from, the very “monster” that is haunting them down, is the one who can save them.

The shadow holds wisdom; the other side of the shadow is filled with immense wisdom, love, genuine strength, permanent healing, the discovery of inner talents, qualities or gifts unique to each person. The wise side of shadow holds your unique voice, but just like a knight in search of treasure, you got to be willing to face the dragon who guards it. The difference is, you don’t fight the dragon… you face it, you listen, you tame it and then the dragon will serve and protect you.

“The meeting with oneself is, at first, the meeting with one’s own shadow. The shadow is a tight passage, a narrow door, whose painful constriction no one is spared who goes down to the deep well. But one must learn to know oneself in order to know who one is.” (Carl Jung)

“What is especially interesting is the idea that the shadow contains not just destructive aspects of the personality, but also potent, creative, and powerful capabilities. During our development certain traits and impulses were condemned by our family, peers, and educators, not out of care but out of envy, fear, ignorance or jealousy. Our proclivity to abide by social expectations also caused us to repress talents, innate abilities, and impulses which if cultivated and developed had the potential to make us more effective beings in the world.

For example, it is becoming more prevalent today for psychologists to diagnose individuals who question authority and show signs of extreme self reliance as being pathological, suffering from a condition they call “anti-authoritarian”. Individuals who are too self-reliant in our increasingly collective and dependent society are viewed by many as a threat. They are lone wolves amidst a flock of sheep, and they are attacked and ridiculed by the herd because of it. (see an important article by Bruce Levine ).

This is just one example of many regarding how our socialization into modern society handicaps our development. The bottom line is that with our higher energies trapped, labeled by others and our conscious ego as negative and bad, our growth can become blocked, and life, a wasteland.

For the sake of our personal development, we must, therefore, become more aware of our shadow and open our mind to the possibility that maybe we are not so friendly, righteous, and moral as we think. We must consider that perhaps there are unconscious aspects of ourselves driving our behavior “behind the scenes”. We must look down into our depths and realize that our conscious ego is not always in control, but is often overtaken by the power of our shadow.

Once we become more aware of these dark aspects of ourselves, we must honor them and find a way to integrate them into our life. In failing to do so, one will become weak and scattered. One cannot serve two inner drives without dissipating his strength and energies. The shadow must become a part of one’s conscious personality.”

Old philosophy taught that to be an individual is to be selfish and self centered yet these two words have been distorted and given a rotten connotation, instead humility is exalted. Let’s take a closer inspection of the words shall we? To be selfish, from its Latin root means to have a strong desire to use your own abilities to succeed. The world self centered doesn’t required much explanation, a person who has a strong center–how are either of those words bad?

To have a genuine strong center vs a fake one is exactly what we need. To succeed using our own abilities instead of exploiting others isn’t bad. And what does humility mean? to humiliate oneself, to make oneself less so others can feel superior…excuse me? so we are to flagellate ourselves, to put ourselves down all the time in order to be considered good and virtuous? No wonder people who fall pray to the “holy than thou” syndrome are so toxic with their passive aggressive behavior–subconsciously they are so tired of pretending, that they need to tell themselves all that charade is worth something–otherwise, what is the point of self denial and self castration. The “holy than thou” syndrome is by far the most common disorder out there. People who seek recognition for being “good”–they tell others they don’t like to be recognized but everything they do screams otherwise. Why wouldn’t it? they are people who want to be seen, and since it is a sin to want to be seen or to be flawed, then they use their persona or mask to do so.

To be human is to be flawed; nevertheless this is not limitation unless we allow it too. There is nothing wrong with imperfections; how can we admire the light of a diamond and yet deny our own light to shine? The diamond’s light is determine by its cuts (it is flawed), not consistent, not smooth all over. We are certainly more precious than that, as such we should applaud our differences, embrace our “flawed self” for flawed doesn’t mean bad. Let’s give our shadow so much genuine love (which can only happen when you get to know yourself and walk through your darkness) that the dragon inside has no choice but to become your ally, your friend, your protector. Let’s stop being afraid to be an individual; one can be an individual and still be connected to others–just like the leaves of a tree. As a matter of fact, the more you become and individual, the more you naturally start to love life and others

“The higher his level of consciousness is, the more perfectly he will understand all whose consciousness is less than his own. That which is above always understands all of that which is below. Because he cannot get to the above without passing through the below.” ~Manly P. Hall

The more you start to understand life and others from a genuine place, the more you find your center–it doesn’t happen overnight and you should not blame yourself for having to set limitations in the meantime– it is your journey towards reclaiming yourself, the only one who knows your rhythm for healing is your inner self and you should honor it.

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.” (Carl Jung)

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By Sofia Falcone

I passionately believe one person can make a difference. I write from my own experiences and interests. It is my greatest hope that by writing about my own challenges, victories, hopes and learnings, others may feel inspired to believe more in their inner power and to fully embrace themselves!

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