The Shadow

Me? I’ve got all the right opinions…

In analytical psychology, the shadow is one of the four major archetypes, along with the persona, anima/animus, and self. 

For 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”.

It seems, in the public domain at least, a “conscious attitude” has been chosen, and it is shrill and unforgiving, if not a bit of a bully. It’s not enough to be in agreement with its terms, and toe its line, we must be seen to be in agreement, and keep constantly policing our toes. Like Caesar’s poor old wife, we must be above suspicion. So we wear all the certified opinions like boy scouts wear badges.

Consciousness is light, and the unconscious is the absence of light. Our conscious attitude is a Lucifer, a ‘light bearer’ prone to nasty falls, because harsh light throws dark shadows.   

For today’s wrathful angels (no, self-righteousness is not born of anger, it’s born of arrogance), whatever is incompatible with our chosen conscious attitude must be cancelled, fired, unfollowed, ostracised. All contracts terminated. 

For Jung, the most troublesome thing in a society is not the shadow as such, but shadow projection. Scapegoating. Emotional effigy burning. We burn the witch, the homophobe, the misogynist; tar-and-feather the harasser, the racist; cut out the tongues of all who would blaspheme against the new order. And lest our pasts be trawled for the sins of youth, we wear screen-size sanbenitos just in case, apologising for all our faux-pas. After all, better just fess up before you get discovered. Remember, “repent ye, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out”. (Acts, 3:19) 

Of course, no-one wants to be exiled into the Shadow, where it is cold and lonely, but if it’s already cold and lonely in the light… Truth is, whenever society gets this picky about what you can and cannot do or say, it’s usually because, at a far deeper level, it’s already lost its way. With no clue about what counts for right or wrong anymore, we become sticklers about what’s “okay”. And it’s not about decency, it’s about power. 

Every individual has a shadow, and each to his, her, their own. Groups have them too, and the complicating factor here is that one group’s shadow is often another group’s substance. Such is society. 

And those shadows are inky dark, because the positions that cast them are dense, and the light they stand in, dazzlingly bright. 

As photographers like to say, if the shadows are all weird, there must be something wrong with the light. 

The shadows we see, the shadows we cast, are strong and deep, with very clear lines, so it’s probably something to do with the quality of the light. 

The light of sanctimony is the harshest light there is. 

As Jung said: “A man who is possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light and falling into his own traps”. 

We keep falling into our own traps, because there’s something unconscious and shadowy always tripping us up. One slip of the tongue and you’re done. You can only make yourself walk the talk for so long. Sooner or later, the real voice escapes, and it usually sounds remarkably like the thing you hate. 

“Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.” — Jung, “Good and Evil in Analytical Psychology”, 1960. 

No-one wants to stand in the Shadow. But maybe it’s time we got out of our own light.