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Jung said that the more conscious we
become of our shadow aspects, the more
we have a chance to correct them, and
even find good uses for them. He said that
trying to be a good person, to do what
people expect of us, often clashes with
our true character. This means that the
shadow often contains some of the most
creative and valuable aspects of our
Jung said, "One does not become
enlightened by imagining figures of light,
but by making the darkness conscious."
I am sure he is right. It is much better
to be whole, to try to integrate the light
and darkness of the soul, than to attempt
to be pure. The first is difficult, but the
second is all but impossible. The shadow
makes a formidable enemy.
Spiritual traditions and social moralities
usually describe mental evil in generic
terms, but Jung argued that a man's
shadow is just as individual to him as
his outer personality. It is not enough
to beat our breasts and admit to being
a wicked sinner. We have to get to know
the individual character that is our
The first step is to honestly admit
what we don't like about ourselves, and
how bad it really is. Freud said we are all
driven by sex. Adler said the lust for power
was stronger. Jung rather whimsically
suggested that our deepest vice was
laziness, which certainly rings true for
me. The shadow is typically about being
egotistical (the superiority illusion) or
hypocritical, being sloppy and lazy, blaming
others for personal failures (projection),
indulging in escapist fantasies, moral
cowardice and gullibility, a preoccupation
with wealth or status, being self absorbed
and indifferent towards others, and the
list goes on and on.
Another way to find our personal
shadows is to look at our obvious failures.
I know I've made three or four very
expensive mistakes in my life. I don't
know how it happened. When I was 22,
I thought I understood everything worth
knowing. That's the way the shadow
works. It ambushes you when you think
you're in control. I'm unlikely to make
exactly those mistakes again, but I know
I've got those character weaknesses. I'm
like the reformed alcoholic who still has
to be careful to avoid pubs.
We like to think we would do anything
for the people we love, but a simple mind
experiment will tell us otherwise. Being
friendly takes little effort but most of
us can manage that. Being sympathetic
takes more effort, since it requires tuning
into the emotional state of the other.
Being compassionate and actually doing
something to alleviate another's pain
takes far more time and commitment.
How much time would you give to help a
workmate or a good friend, for example,
before you felt compassion fatigue? We
have limits even in regard to those we love.
The same dynamic happens in families.
Most parents are immensely loving and
dedicated towards their children, but I
could see that I wasn't capable of that. I
would have been one of those parents
who felt too much resentment at their
loss of freedom. This somewhat cool,
dry, solitary part of my shadow is not very
appealing to me or to others, but I feel a
lot better admitting it.
Similarly, many of us are approaching
the age when our parents may need
considerable help. In the past, millions of
people, mainly daughters, sacrificed years
of their lives to care for aging parents. If
it came to the crunch, would you? My
mother willingly took on that role and
enjoyed it, but I am sure she knows that I
would only do that for her with reluctance,
and that I would do my best to avoid it. I
know I'm not as nice a person as I would
like to be, but wishing to be otherwise
would be a recipe for misery.
As Jung said, "There can be no doubt
that man is, on the whole, less good
than he imagines himself or wants to be.
Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it
is embodied in the individual's conscious
life, the blacker and denser it is." Con-
versely, the more we admit our weakness,
faults and unsavoury emotions, the more
sane and well grounded we become. Most
of us are not particularly bad, but this
clear sighted assessment benefits both
ourselves and those around us.
I've been acquainted with Jung since I
was 17. I came across his collected works
in the university library and as I could tell
from the withdrawal slip in the back only
one other person, a surrealist poet, ever
took his books out. I am proud to say
that in my own fumbling, slow learner,
way I've tried to integrate my shadow as
he recommended ever since. He said that
the work never really comes to an end,
and that it would be hard but enormously
rewarding, and he was right on both
'Conversely, the more we admit our weakness, faults and unsavoury
emotions, the more sane and well grounded we become.'
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