Psychology was a word spoken in hushed terms in the 1950's. It
spoke darkly of social diseases inadmissible in polite conversation.
Fortunately times have changed, though psychology is still an inexact
science - at best it is no more than a study of many unquantifiable
forces and of the unmeasured effect they have on us. We must accept
the disquieting fact that we may not be wholly the person we think
we are. We are governed by an Unconscious mind, (identified by Freud
only this century) of which, by definition, we are not aware. This
is our repository for undeveloped or unrecognised energies and emotions
and describes the unfathomable world of the psyche, the imperceptible
face of our soul. And we also have a Subconscious memory level in
which dwell the many actively suppressed experiences of life which
we choose to ignore, deny or forget. We are here to discover ourselves,
and this discovery can take a lifetime.
The unconscious mind governs the energetic complexes of our inner
life, our fears, phobias and feelings. It acts autonomously and
exerts its influence on our behaviour, generally without our conscious
knowledge. Jung considered that we are powered not only by a personal
unconscious, the combined dictates of our life's experience, but
by a collective unconscious, an historical memory function experienced
through archetypes and acted out through our national, racial or
cultural experience of life.
Some events in our lives have remained below the threshold of conscious
thought yet remain firmly locked into our unconscious mind. While
other thoughts, consciously perceived at the time of the event,
have been forced into the subconscious realm by our natural defence
systems, to protect us from the unbearable and the unthinkable.
These banished subconscious experiences may include birth shock,
childhood rape, sexual molestation and emotional trauma triggered
by accidents, violence, alcoholism and abuse and many other childhood
and adolescent experiences of this or even other lives, perceived
or real. When an event is remembered by a child as being real, whether
it was dreamed or imagined, the result can be the same as if it
had been truly real.
Traumas of this magnitude dwell within us all, and an unresolved
and unquietened unconscious will force its way into the conscious
mind through dreams and phobias and cause physical malfunctions
like anorexia, paralysis, hypochondria, obesity. It will also give
rise to defence systems like compulsive joking, religious mania,
nervous laughter and obsessive political, social and religious preoccupations;
and hyperactivity, where we rush about being too busy to hear the
inner voice of discontent that is struggling to make itself heard,
to tell us of the need to grow, the need to individuate, the need
to question the reasons for our very existence.
The real and perceived experiences of life give rise to further
problems; the perceived fantasies of young children (which is now
called 'confabulation') and impressionable adolescents can trigger
the literal and hasty judgement of zealous health workers and self
appointed social saviours, who whip up national witch hunts and
create the sort of trauma, for child and parent, that may take more
than a lifetime to heal. Let us be careful not to allow our own
unrecognised, unconscious experience of life to poison our judgement
and quicken our condemnation of others.
The 'Shadow' is the unacknowledged, undeveloped and sometimes unpalatable
side of our personality, and must be smoked out of its hiding place
in our psyche; we must integrate our shadow and live it, not disown
it. The shadow is not necessarily all bad, merely raw, primitive
and unbridled. To acknowledge our shadow takes merciless courage.
We actively repress the sentiments and feelings that don't fit with
our principles, understandably enough, but overlook the inescapable
fact that these repressed energies will manifest themselves externally
until we become aware of them and give them space. The longer we
repress our inner nature, the darker the shadow becomes and the
greater the burden on the frail foundations of our false reality.
Parents traditionally detest their own faults in their children;
we avoid and abhor that which we recognise as our own shadow, the
uninvited guest of our socially honed ego; and in this very shadow,
in their excesses and their indulgences, lie the seeds of our maturity,
our own self knowledge. Look outside, and see within....
We are, none of us, perfect, and we must learn to accept our imperfections.
We must ensure the perfection we demand of others, our children,
our parents, social workers, teachers and leaders, is a realistic
and achievable perfection and not the unrealistic demands of our
own idealistic shadow.
The press barons would not be in business but for the willingness
of their readers to point accusing fingers at political and public
figures alike. The proliferation of gossip press is an unhealthy
indictment against the society that buys it and reveals some of
the darker sides of our nature, both individually and collectively.
MEETING OUR SHADOW
I relish the legend of the old Chinese peasant who returns home
every evening after a day in the fields, and solemnly beats his
wife. He doesn't know why he beats his wife.... But his wife does....!
Psychologists recognise that some wife-beating men are made so
by the wives they beat. Curiously, the bruised and battered partner
of a violent marriage, bathed in impeccable virtue, will often go
off and marry another, hitherto blameless man who will then become
the second wife beater in her life. Jung would suggest that she
may be 'meeting her shadow' through external events. She is experiencing
externally the violence that lurks within. Becoming an innocent
victim of life is a well known survival strategy. It answers the
urge to belong, and may stem from an emotionally deprived childhood,
the crossed wires of immaturity jumping to confused conclusions.
Either way it is a positive statement of need, the need for attention,
the need for self knowledge.
The peasant's salutary tale is not without foundation, and illustrates
the dangers of ignoring our unseen, darker side. No one can do it
for us, but study, psychotherapy and self awareness may help. The
shadow must be integrated, not disowned.
Mistreated children can grow up to expect or even to seek out
mistreatment. Once a child's trust has been lost, it will not, like
any animal, ever willingly trust again. Robbed of their self esteem,
they may subconsciously revel in their blows and their bruises -
children of disturbed homes, children of violent, depraved, negligent,
over-possessive or domineering parents. Sexually exploited children
who have been bullied, humiliated, insulted... these are typical
of the early learning patterns that can affect us for our lifetime,
sowing the unvoiced seeds of violence - often without our knowing
it. Our negative responses in childhood, carried over into our personal
relationships, can quickly become an unhealthy habit.
A little girl may feel defiled, neglected or exploited by her
father. Or she might innocently carry all her mother's vitriol for
her father - with all the hatred that a scorned woman and a failed
marriage can unleash. She grows up harbouring murderous feelings
which she now projects onto the men in her life. Through no fault
of their own they carry her projections as unfaithful, untrustworthy
and unreliable ogres. Eventually they can stand it no longer, and
do the one thing she most feared - insult her, jostle her and walk
out of her life for ever. Her murderous feelings are reinforced,
and pity the next man in her life!
A lot of the rhetoric of feminism has little to do with equal opportunities
- but lots to do with unexpressed unconscious wounds, lingering
on from a misunderstood childhood and poisoning our potential for
growth. This is usually the case where any one group unites itself
in outrage against any other. Feminism is a fashionable, if passing,
whim, which masks the real problems facing women, and men, in this
Our irrational and unsubstantiated preoccupation with another's
faults reveal to us aspects of the shadow we may then come to recognise
as our own. Perhaps, reared on a diet of humiliation and ridicule,
we harbour a deep unconscious yearning to shout and scream and to
behave outrageously, while our polished and disciplined persona,
the mask we want others to see, would be horrified at such a public
show of emotion.
Our unexpected encounter of an outrageous screamer, who represents,
metaphorically, the unindulged whims of our own personality, will
trigger deep, irrational feelings far greater than the occasion
would warrant, and out of all proportion to anyone else's observations
of the same event. This is the root of negative projection. We are
intrigued and drawn to our opposites, even in our relationships,
only to find them the unceasing cause of our exasperation. We project
onto others those qualities we are unable or unprepared to accept
in ourselves. We attract to ourselves those traits that we persistently
disown and we encounter the life that we are not living out.
Fathers, mothers and bewildered partners may all become the unwilling
recipients of our shadow's projections. The solution lies, as we
all know, buried within the defensive, aggressive and sometimes
unlovable heart of the searching subject.
Many people choose a partner to live out this shadow side for
them - the selfless handmaiden who looks to her odious husband to
express her shadow for her. Or the gentle, mild mannered man with
the music hall wife who shocks him daily with her brazen disregard
for charm, grace or style.
We will attract events from life which force us to address certain
aspects of our development. Unlived energies quickly express themselves
as physical symptoms, like headaches, migraine, hyper-tension, depression.
We must uncover all these negative emotions that power us, and
winkle out of our unconscious heritage our reality, our truth. This
does not mean blaming our parents or partners for our disappointments
in life, but it does mean taking a long hard look at our past experiences,
our fears and our phobias, and seeing where these patterns started,
and why, and what effect they are having on us now. To bring these
deeply embedded traits up to consciousness is the first step to
being released by them.
The essence of Jung's teaching is the process of Individuation;
this is the process whereby the Ego expands its consciousness to
accommodate the great collective power of the Unconscious, and to
acknowledge the relationship between the two; in this universal
power resides our small but growing awareness, our uniqueness, our
Our Unconscious communicates with us through dreams, which on a
collective and historical basis continue to throw up the same archetypes,
the same mythical heroes and anti- heroes of our human history,
time after time.
The Unconscious, experienced at both personal and collective levels
is also the home of psychic inspiration and of subliminal thoughts
unseen and unheard by the conscious mind. This is the spiritual
window of our psychic selves, the font of creative abundance powering
the achievements revered in art, music and literature and in all
cases where mankind is the parent of unique and unprecedented originality.
We and all that we stand for, our mind, our intellect, our soul,
constitute the combined inputs of our existence. Ignore one and
we ignore them all. Develop, nurture and cherish one, and the vastly
complex matrix of our multi-faceted spirit takes over and we achieve
the triumph of humanity over eternity; this is called salvation
and redemption. And this is the unquestioned destiny of human evolution.