The Archetype of
the Human Shadow
The concept of the shadow was derived at by Jung after much influence from both Freud and the neuro-psychiatrists like Janet, who spoke of the phenomenon of double consciousness (Casement, 2003). There is a long history of humans grappling with the concept of the shadow, not in the form of the term, but in the experience of a ‘light’ and a ‘dark’ side of...
Jung used the concept of the shadow as the part of the psyche that contains the psychic material that could be described as the “hated and disowned” (McNamara, 1994) aspects of both individuals (personal) and societies (any group that share some form of collectivity). The concept of the shadow is connected to Jung’s theory of the unconscious. The personal shadow is linked to the contents of the personal unconscious.; shadow contents being repressed by the ego as they are unacceptable to the ego (Casement, 2003). The shadow is experienced by the person as the primitive and inferior part; hence it attracts immediate judgment and fear.
In the individual psyche, the shadow is a concept that Jung developed to refer to a part of us “to define and to denote that part of ourselves – thoughts, memories, feelings, actions- that we would rather not know about and would rather not have to acknowledge as belonging to us.” (Montagnon, 2005). The personal shadow is the part of the psyche that is the reservoir of the disavowed; the thoughts, behaviours, feelings and memories that we feel ashamed about and produce a sense of guilt. The material in the shadow is split away from consciousness through repression, to maintain to ourselves a sense of identity that does not reflect these aspects (memories, dreams, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours). “This process is not necessarily a negative process. As Fordham (1965) States: “We need to remember here that repression is not necessarily useless; on the contrary, it may be a positive factor in psychic life by successfully holding in check antisocial impulses or unethical tendencies which cannot be released as such without danger to the patient or society.”.
The shadow also contains material from the collective unconscious, therefore primitive processes that are archetypal in its experience. For Jung, the structure of the psyche came to be largely through a developmental process from primitive and unconscious parts. As the individual develops in the early years of life, the ego begins to form. The ego is the center of consciousness that contains and develops the sense of identity. The ego regulates how we interact and negotiate the external world, including material that may be internally driven (personal unconscious material). As the ego contains the personal sense of identity, as well as the center of consciousness, any thoughts, feelings, or actions that produce a sense of shame or guilt in relation to this personal identity, so the shadow becomes the reservoir of these contrary elements. The result is the shadow, an unconscious part of the psyche that keeps our sense of identity protected and ego-syntonic.
The shadow is that part of the person that gives a sense of being human, that part when confronted allows the individual to see his ‘other side’. Dealing with the shadow means opening to a fuller experience of being yourself, incorporating those feelings, thought and behaviours that have become ‘not-me’ parts due to the prohibition from the collective and parental value system. Jung distinguishes between the personal and the archetypal shadows. The personal shadow is understood as the parts that are in opposition to direct social and collective values. The personal shadow is identified with the contents of the personal unconscious (being unacceptable to the individual’s ego). The archetypal shadow is connected to the collective unconscious. When this is activated, the content is marked by strong emotions and reactions. (Casement,2003)
The shadow content is not only negative. Often the unwanted repressed material is considered bad or evil. As example, an impulse to violence may be frowned upon by some societies or groups. But the repressed material may also be aspects that the psyche (ego) represses that would be considered good and positive, for example anger/aggression may be a good thing when required to cause change, assert boundaries, or defend oneself. Sometimes though, the shadow represses good qualities, and the ego identifies with negative qualities, resulting in a negative shadow. Jung thought the shadow can be a tremendous source of creativity. When the repressed parts of the ego are acknowledged and integrated into the ego, the potential energy and creativity provides impetus for the psyche to individuate and move towards balance and wholeness, unencumbered by disconnection from itself.
The shadow becomes the reservoir for aspects that are in opposition to collective values and norms, while the persona adapts the ego’s ‘face’ to interact using different masks. The purpose of the concept of the persona, is to describe the different ways of interpersonal (superficial) contact in different situations requiring superficial values of interaction. The persona allows the person to adapt to social situations, thereby lessening the anxiety of interpersonal ‘fitting in’.
Central to Jung’s theory is the idea of opposites. Jung understood the psyche to contain opposites in a Taoist-like theory, where balancing and wholeness is created to organize the psyche in developing towards individuation. The psyche that is ‘out of balance’ is caught in an extreme position. If the psyche draws too much to anima, there will be a rebalancing to force the psyche to redress the one-sidedness and acknowledge the animus qualities. At a collective level, there is the collective conscious identity, and the collective unconscious shadow. These need to remain in a balance for society to develop and maintain a sense of ‘health’. As Fordham (1965) states: “we can think of the achievements of any society on the one hand with satisfaction and admiration but can recognize that its one-sided development has also its shadow. If the society is functioning well the shadow compensates the social good, but if it becomes too powerful there will be a disaster of one sort or another.”. Fordham goes on to speak about the opposites in religious society and the shadow as one element in the conflict between good and evil which becomes split off from human beings.
The more psychic material unavailable to the ego, deposited in the shadow through repression, the more the shadow becomes ‘heavy’ with unacknowledged parts. This psychic material requires to be reintegrated into the ego. As this is difficult to do, requiring a confrontation of conflicting material between the collective and individual psychic identities, the individual experiences an initial sense of melancholia, before experiencing a feeling of being energised, and less anxious. This occurs because the psyche has experienced an expansion. It has become ‘thicker’ (Jung, 1938). This step in the individuation process is regarded by classical Jungian theory as the initial phase in the analytic/individuation process. The ego is unable to manage and deal with the archetypal psychic material, such as the opposite elements of the animus/anima and the unfolding of the self, unless it has become whole (or at least embroiled in the process of confrontation of shadow). The ego’s whole-making process involves an integration of its split-off parts, which are contained in the shadow.
The process to confront the shadow is the initial process in classical analysis as Jung described. In the analytic process, the patient’s urges, tendencies, thoughts, and feelings that express “selfish, ambitious and aggressive urges” (Weiss, 1944) need to be brought into consciousness. This process often gives rise to a melancholic state that expresses the momentary narcissistic wounding that is derived from the loss of perfection or rigid sense of identity. There is often an exaggeration in the negative tendencies and melancholia, as the patient becomes hyper-aware of the negative shadow qualities. This is an expression of Jung’s idea of opposites and the move towards psychic wholeness. Temporarily in the process there is a need for an affect-releasing balancing, an over-expression of shadow material accompanied by an exaggerated sense of shadow identity. The person may feel ‘bad’ to the extreme, until they are able to integrate this correctly.
Sometimes this process does not move in a positive individuation direction, expressing negative individuation. The individual may identify with the negative shadow elements and repress the positive. When identifying with the inferior and undeveloped parts of the personality there is expression of passion and energy through the inflated negative parts of the shadow; hence psychopathology and a Kali-like destruction may result. As it occurs in individuals, it also occurs in the collective. Stein (1995) discussed the shadow projection identification of the German people: “The appearance of the Wotan archetype in the collective consciousness of the German nation could be interpreted as a psychological compensation for a national mood of humiliation and loss of self-worth, the archetypal basis for a sort of narcissistic rage reaction.”. Marie-Louise von Franz (1990) describes the process of negative individuation as an arrest in the psychic development and a denial of shadow material, a dissociation that results in rigidity of the psyche. I think it aptly put by Hewison (2003) that “the world becomes viewed as a simple black and white place where some things are by definition ‘good’, and other, ‘bad’; ambiguity and ambivalence cannot be tolerated.”
Montagnon (2005) believes that the sense of personal identity as well as identity of the group is firmly rooted in the experience and existence of boundaries; that the ‘other’ must exist to entrench a sense of identity. Having an ‘other’ in opposition to oneself seems to be necessary to understand and create a differentiation and recognize one’s own identity and sense of self. Although Montagnon makes an important point, I think that her explanation is part of the process towards individuation, therefore necessary as a process, not sufficient to explain and direct the complete process of individuation.
There is a requirement for some psychic energy to assist the individual (or collective) to move into the individuation process’ requirement to confront the shadow and integrate it. It can be a harrowing experience; conjuring up shadow material requires courage and characterological strength. Montagnon (2005) discusses the role of aggression in this initial process to deal with the shadow and move towards the self. This requires archetypal energy Jung termed the ‘Hero Archetype’ (Jung, 1975). It is an archetype that is classically encountered in the adolescent or young adult, seeking to separate from his mother, parents or formative structures. This requires a heroic act that fills the person with a sense of required energy, courage and solitude, as so often depicted in stories and literature heroes e.g. Batman. By drawing from this archetypal energy, it becomes possible to muster strength to confront the shadow and begin the conscious-making journey of individuation. The psyche can resist the draw to regression through the identification with the hero archetype.
To individuate is to confront the shadow…..to accept mistakes is necessary.
This is a shortened version of an essay written in 2019(unpublished).