Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Shadow Archetype

A Further Note on Shadow

In Irish folklore it is suggested that a person who has no shadow of necessity is the devil himself.  Interesting, no? Physicists, when talking about the images thrown by a light source on a screen, say that these images possess an “umbra” and a “penumbra” as I seem to remember from my long distant school days.  The site Dictionary gives the following definition of umbra: (i) shade, shadow from the Latin, (ii) the invariable or characteristic accompaniment or companion of a person or thing, (iii) the complete or perfect shadow of an opaque body, as a planet and (iv) a phantom or shadowy apparition, as of someone or something not physically present; ghost; spectral image. For penumbra we get the following definition: (i) Astronomy. a. the partial or imperfect shadow outside the complete shadow of an opaque body, as a planet, where the light from the source of illumination is only partly cut off, (b) the grayish marginal portion of a sunspot, and (ii) a shadowy, indefinite, or marginal area.

So much for definitions – I always find them a good point from which to jump off, like a diving board that allows one to enter the water with some modicum of decorum or form.  I have mentioned Freud and Jung before in these pages, the latter more than the former as I find his insights useful to the project of living this life as fully as I possibly can.  Both saw that the project/goal/aim of psychotherapy was in making the unconscious aspect of our psyche conscious.  This, of course, as I have mentioned before is a lifelong task.  Two basic schemas which attempt very rudimentarily to come to grips with what personality is all about appeal to me by way of introduction to the psyche namely (a) The Johari Window and (b) the Iceberg Theory.

The Johari Window is interesting and simply to understand.  It’s a rudimentary and basic tool, but not very profound; yet it is very helpful and useful I think.  Joe Luft and Harry Ingham were researching human personality at the University of California in the 1950s when they devised their Johari Window.  Using a form of word derivation normally reserved for suburban house names, they based the title on their two first names.  Rather than measuring personality, the Window offers a way of looking at how personality is expressed. Luft and Ingham observed that there are aspects of our personality that we're open about, and other elements that we keep to ourselves.  At the same time, there are things that others see in us that we're not aware of.  As a result, you can draw up a four-box grid, which includes a fourth group of traits that are unknown to anyone.  These two areas that I have bolded and italicized would be the whole unconscious area of our personality.  Anyway, this concept is worth a look at if you are interested in personal growth.  The other basic theory, the Iceberg Theory of the psyche is also worth perusing.  The iceberg is a metaphor to help us understand Freud’s topographical theory of the mind [ (i) The Conscious Mind – very small part of the mind/psyche, (ii) The Pre-conscious Mind – small to medium and (iii) The Un-conscious Mind – a huge part of the mind/psyche].  The metaphor of iceberg describes this neatly for us and it goes thus: Only 10% of an iceberg is visible (conscious) whereas the other 90% is beneath the water (preconscious and unconscious). The Preconscious is allotted approximately 10% -15% whereas the Unconscious is allotted an overwhelming 75%-80%.   See the following useful link: Unconscious In fact Wilder is a marvelously creative educational site and well worth exploring if you’re interested in knowledge and its application to life and living.  

Now back to getting to know the stuff of this 80% of us, the stuff of the unconscious. I have often quoted Miranda’s speech from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. To rework the quote would be to say that “the stuff of the unconscious is what we are made of!” As I have outlined often before in these posts each of us has shadows that hold forbidden feelings such as shame, jealousy, greed, lust, and rage. Left to their own devices these shadows will become destructive saboteurs--causing us to betray our loved ones as well as ourselves. It is not within our power to choose whether or not to have these shadows; however, Jungians and many other psychologists of various schools believe that it is within our power to take responsibility for our shadows and put them to productive use.

I will finish with a few quotes from the Master himself, namely Carl Gustave Jung about our shadow.  Pondering any of them is well worth the effort.

  • The Shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge, and it therefore, as a rule, meets with considerable resistance. Indeed, self-knowledge as a psychotherapuetic measure frequently requires much painstaking work extending over a long period of time. CW9: AION: 14,

  • Unfortunately 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. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected and is liable to burst forth suddenly in a moment of unawareness. At all events, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions. CW 11: Psychology and Religion: 131

  • The task of midlife is not to look into the light, but to bring light into the darkness. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.CW 13: Alchemical Studies, p335

That is enough food for thought to be going on with.

A presto!




The above is an old picture I took some three years ago. You can see my shadow somewhere among the litter.