Calling The Shadow

Updated: Jan 26



© Elaine Bontempi, Ph.D., 2022

All Rights Reserved

“The Shadow,” was a popular radio show based on dramatisations of detective stories that aired during the 1930s. My mom, who listened to the show when she was young, purchased CD reproductions of the show that were complete with the crackling and popping sounds of the original recordings. In attempts to recapture the ambiance of the era, she would listen to them on a CD player designed to look like an old fashioned radio. At the beginning of each episode, Orson Wells, in a deep and menacing baritone voice asked, Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!” He followed this introduction with a sinister, cackling laugh and ominous organ music playing in the background. The series was based on an obscure figure, “The Shadow,” an expert in fighting evil who had a “hypnotic power to cloud the minds of men so they cannot see him,” so he was “never seen only heard.” Because The Shadow himself, had come from a dark place, he was well acquainted with the evils of men, which made him an expert at fighting crime. Similar to this radio character, we each have a part of our personalities lurking below the surface, “hypnotising” our conscious self and clouding our perspectives of reality so that we are unable to see things clearly or fully.

Our Shadows Lead Us Into the Light

According to Carl Jung, every person has a unique destiny, and through the process of individuation a person discovers what they are destined to become. This process consists of three stages: examining the shadow, the anima/animus and the self. The shadow archetype is based on duality: the conscious and unconscious, light and dark. It is the the whole unconscious, but also considered to be the wild, and mysterious part of our personalities that a person often represses. It can take on an animal form such as a wild animal, monster, or demon. Although it is typically hidden to the conscious, Jung believed that The Shadow can reveal itself through our dreams and visions. Thus, exploring consciousness requires examining the unconscious shadow self, and this process of uncovering and integrating our shadow selves into our conscious is referred to as “shadow work.” Jung cautioned that the goal of shadow work should be wholeness and not perfection (as if this was even possible).

Our shadow side is formed during childhood and is both a product of our natural development as well as our conditioning and socialization. We learn through the socialization process what traits or behaviors are deemed “desirable” as well as those that are seen as “undesirable,” “shameful,” or “socially unacceptable.” However, the development of the shadow is also influenced by any abuse or trauma we experience, the collective subconscious, or even historical trauma (epigenetics) passed down from one generation to the next. Over time we learn to repress or hide the interests, activities, emotions, or behaviour that we are punished for, or made to feel ashamed of through the socialization process. In other words, we internalize certain behaviors that we learn are “accepted” and “valued” and reject (or repress) others. For example, a child who grows up in in a family that is emotionally cold and non-nurturing will typically seem emotionally standoffish, non-demonstrative, or focus on material wealth (Deci, 1996). Similarly, children who are raised in families that reward submission and punish rebellion through social rejection or shaming will often learn to be submissive. They may choose to push down emotions of anger or rebellious behavior rather than openly express it. Thus, the shadow side of self that might feel anger, resentment, and rejection of socially endorsed beliefs is often pushed down and hidden even from our own conscious. However, Carl Jung cautioned that denying our shadow self makes us vulnerable to its destructive side when he warned, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will control your life and you will call it fate.” He stated:

By not being aware of having a shadow, you declare a part of your personality to be non-existent. Then it enters the kingdom of the non-existent, which swells up and takes on enormous proportions…If you get rid of qualities you don’t like by denying them, you become more and more unaware of what you are, you declare yourself more and more non-existent, and your devils will grow fatter and fatter.

---Carl Jung, Dream Analysis: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1928-1930

Thus, like the crime fighting radio personality of the 1930’s who stealthily gained insight into the minds of criminals, by working with our own “Shadow,” we too, can gain clarity and wholeness.

Although Orson Wells suggested,“THE SHADOW KNOWS,” Carl Jung warned, “KNOW YOUR SHADOW!” Here are a few fun yet very effective activities that will help you get to know YOUR Shadow!

  1. Dream Journal—pay close attention to your dreams and begin journaling these, especially your nightmares and any repeating themes.

  2. Self Box This activity can be used to explore the shadow and the persona (Jung).

  3. Paper mache’ mask. The mask may represent a shadow selves.

  4. Write a story or Fairy Tale where you project your shadow self onto a fictional character in your story.

  5. Keep a Shadow Journal where you can illuminate some of your darker, or more repressed aspects of yourself. Explore these and record your emotions and thoughts concerning these, what triggered certain emotions or thoughts, where you feel these originated and why you feel you cannot openly express these.


References:

Jung, C.G. (1975). Psychology and Religion: West and East. Princeton University Press.

Jung, C.G. (1990). The archetypes and the collective unconscious. Princeton Press.

Lowen, A. (1995). Joy: The surrender to the body and to life. Penguin Books.

Ryan, E.L. (1996). Why we do what we do: Understanding self-motivation. Penguin Books


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