by Andrea M. Darcy
Are there parts of yourself that you don’t like? And even try to hide? Welcome to your shadow self.
What is the ‘shadow self’?
The term ‘the shadow’ was made popular by psychoanalyst Carl Jung. He saw it as the uncivilised, even primitive side of our nature.
We all have a shadow self. It is generally made up of the parts of ourselves we deem unacceptable. For many people this means things like our sadness, rage, laziness, and cruelty. But you might also see as uncivilised and unacceptable things like your personal power, your independence, or your emotional sensitivity.
Of course some of us don’t realise we have a shadow side as we feel ashamed and lack self-awareness. We have not yet taken the journey of self, and instead project our own shadow onto others around us. We are sure it’s them who has the problem, not us.
The Shadow and psychological projection
Psychological projection is when we attribute an unconscious thought, feeling, or even talent of our own onto another person.
When it comes the shadow, it will be a seemingly ‘unacceptable’ attribute you see in another person, and the projection often comes couched in blame.
For example, you might feel that everyone around you is lazy and selfish. The reason you never get ahead in life is apparently because they are all too self-absorbed to help you. If you looked at yourself honestly, you would likely find it’s you yourself who have a tendency to be self-centred and lazy.
Isn’t my shadow side bad?
Although we might want to see our shadow as ‘negative’, this is not true. The Shadow is rather what you yourself perceive as dark and weak about yourself, and therefore needing to be hidden and denied. But this depends on your own perspective , and your levels of self-esteem.
Carl Jung firmly believed that we need to fully see and accept this dark side of ourselves to be a fully integrated human.
It is only through our own effort to learn who we are and cultivate self-acceptance that we can recognise and embrace our shadow, and then benefit from the many gifts the shadow offers.
Yes, gifts. All the parts we previously deemed ‘bad’ have things to offer. Anger, for example, helps us set boundaries. Sadness helps us move on and let go. Our shadow elements only present a problem if we mishandle them or use them incorrectly.
How do I get rid of my Shadow self?
You can’t ‘not have’ a shadow. No matter how ‘nice’ or ‘happy’ someone may seem, they have a shadow side like anyone else.
Nor can you ‘get rid of’ or ‘heal’ your shadow. It’s an essential and useful part of you and your personal power, and the idea is to integrate it, not ‘heal’ it.
And note that trying not to have a shadow only backfires. When we repress and deny things about ourselves, they do not disappear. Rather, they can grow in power and cause us more and more difficulties.
Jung and the Shadow
Jung didn’t feel it was just individuals who had shadows. He also talked of the ‘collective shadow’, where people united their shadows in groups or as societies.
He saw this as a very great danger to civilisation when a collective shadow was ‘projected’.
An example of the collective shadow at work would be the Holocaust, where people united their hatred of one race and the end result was a great tragedy.
Why do I need to know my shadow?
When we recognise and face our shadow, we can become more whole and balanced.
Again, the shadow gives us gifts like boundary setting, personal power, and emotional fluency.
Knowing your shadow side will also improve your relationships. When we can accept and understand ourselves, we are then more able to accept and understand others.
If might also help you be more creative. Jung connected the shadow to creativity. Perhaps the more free we feel emotionally, the more free we are in the ways that we think and accomplish things.
How to know your shadow self
The shadow can be one of the first things we face when we start attending therapy. The creation of a safe space where we can talk to someone who isn’t personally invested in our life means we find ourselves saying things we didn’t even know we think and feel.
Other ways to access your shadow include journalling and working with your dreams, and the archetypes you find in them.
Of course looking at what you are constantly blaming others for tends to be a direct route to your shadow self. What are the things you like least in other people? Does that characteristic exist within you, too?
It’s important to recognise and understand your shadow side, but not over-identify with it. If you are going through a period of low self-esteem or depression, for example, it’s not the time to indulge in shadow work because you are not in the headspace to recognise your strengths, too.
Help to understand your shadow
Jungian analysis is of course helpful as a route to exploring your shadow.
But really any sort of talk therapy that seeks a bigger picture of how you became the person you are today will be just as useful.
This includes long-term therapies like psychodynamic psychotherapy, schema therapy, existential therapy and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT). You could also start with a shorter term therapy, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), cognitive analytic therapy (CAT), and dynamic interpersonal therapy (DIT).
Want to explore your shadow side in a safe, friendly environment with a trained and professional therapist? Harley Therapy connects you with highly trained counselling psychologists and psychotherapists from its central London clinics or via online therapy sessions.
Have a question about the shadow self? Or want to share an experience with our readers? Use the public comment box below.
Andrea M. Darcy is the lead writer and editor of this site, and an avid fan of all things Jung and a good bit of shadow work.