Here’s a challenge: during the next couple minutes, try be honest with and consciously aware of the thoughts and feelings that arise within you. Allow yourself to be genuinely vulnerable. Approach the next several moments with openness and non-judgement.
Think about some things you’ve done in the past and hid from others. Maybe you’ve betrayed a friend, disobeyed your parents, lied or broken a commitment. Think about a few subjects you tend to avoid thinking about out of fear or insecurity. Think about a few things that make you feel guilty. What actions lead you to feel shame, or as if your sinning against yourself? What are some common criticisms you hear from other people and are not willing to confront? What are some things you are scared of admitting? Think about these answers and say hello to your shadow.
Carl Jung is a Swiss psychiatrist who developed the idea of “the shadow.” Many of his theories have been applied to positive psychology and healthy living because of his focus on psychological well being in relation to the complete and whole being. Things like sex, anger and selfishness lie in our shadow. Actions connected to jealousy, competition, vengeance, lust and control lie in our shadow. When we act on these, we usually don’t feel great. Notice the tendencies and urges connected to these notions within yourself when they arise. Try to understand their source instead of impulsively acting on them.
Like teachers, our dark sides help us learn more about human nature and empathy. One thing that connects us human beings to each other is our potential to commit sins against ourselves and what we feel is moral. The circuitous avenue to true inner freedom requires you to come to terms with your dark side and accept what lies within. Let your dark side exist in harmony with your “good” intentions and actions.
From the moment we come into this world, we are socialized to think that certain actions or ways of being are wrong while others are right. While there may be a general consensus on some issues (murder is a big no-no), no one truly has the answers to all the laws or morality. In fact, this is what creates the shadow: we deem certain actions as good and bad due to certain fears or insecurities, and we either commit or resist them with effort. Some of us succeed sometimes, some of us fail other times. Life is all about choices. We all make mistakes. We all do things that we don’t want other people to know about. We think about things that we’d never want to let out. Some of these things may be what you would view as scary, disgusting, twisted or horrible. You don’t have to act on all of the desires connected to these actions to get to know your dark side and live freely. Simply being aware that these desires exist will help you resist the temptation to do something you feel is not in your best interest. This doesn’t mean you should approach life with the desire to be totally liberated and free from all responsibility. Live consciously, kindly and openly. Ignoring your shadow may lead to a number of consequences including emotional and psychological distress. If you go on about life ignoring certain parts of yourself, your whole self will not be totally satisfied. However, if you simply become aware of certain urges and desires in you, you may find yourself becoming more tolerant.
Writing, drawing, painting or simply being aware of your actions (and their consequences) are some ways you can get to know your dark side. You’ve probably heard that artists are overly-sensitive or emotional. Their creativity may actually have something to do with how freely willing they are to accept the darkness of life and nature and express it. The duality of light and dark, unconscious and conscious, and good and bad are what makes life what it is. The freedom to make a choice anywhere on these spectrums is one fantastic part about being human.
Allow yourself the freedom to experience life and all its offerings the “good” and the “bad.”
If you’re interested in this subject, you might find some scholarly articles written on Carl Jung’s conceptualization of “The Shadow,” as well as positive depth psychology, self-actualization, individuation and authenticity.
Photo by: Kyla Christopher