Karuna Counseling’s Newsletter Articles

June 11, 2008

Turning Toward Our Shadow

Filed under: 2008 Articles,Darby's Articles,Dreams & The Unconscious — karunacounseling @ 2:45 pm
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Darby Christopher, LMSW

We all have a preferred way of viewing ourselves, which includes owning the personality traits that we believe will serve us best in the world. Often, cultural values that we uphold, such as loyalty, optimism or courage, will fall into this category. Many of us want to see ourselves – and for others to see us – as loving, giving, considerate and self confident. Sometimes, qualities like wild, out-of-the-box, rebellious and counter-cultural are also characteristics that we are happy to claim.

 

But what about those parts of ourselves and experiences we have that we don’t want to claim? What about the traits that others might see in us, but which we have a difficult time seeing in ourselves? These are the parts that Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung named our “shadow.” Traits that comprise our shadow often include qualities that our communities have disowned, such as fear, anger, selfishness, destructive words, thoughts or actions and various desires and addictions. Experiences of abuse or shame that have affected our self concept also fall into this category. On the other hand, if owning our talents or loving nature doesn’t feel safe, then these traits too will comprise our shadow.

 

Our natural human tendency is to run from our shadow. After all, the reason we don’t like certain qualities or recalling certain experiences is because they bring us pain, and our natural response to pain is to get as far away from it as possible. 

 

However, what works in the physical world – “don’t touch that fire!” – does not translate well in the psychological world. If avoiding the things that bring us emotional and psychological pain were the answer, this whole business of growth and healing would be simple, linear and formulaic.  The journey toward wholeness, rather, is circular, containing elements of mystery, and often takes place in relationship. This is why our efforts to “just not think about it” or “just don’t do it” sometimes fail us.

 

Why is this the case? Why doesn’t avoidance work? I don’t have the definitive answer for this, but one thing seems to be clear: The harder we work to push some aspects of psychological life away – including our painful problems and symptoms – the harder they work to make themselves known. It’s as if they contain a message for us, and, in terms of the big picture of our lives, this message is more important than our comfort.

 

Paradoxically and somewhat counter intuitively, turning toward our painful problems, symptoms, personality traits, and memories is what helps begin to loosen them and move them along.

 

 

How To Recognize The Shadow

 

In order to turn toward our shadow, we must first be able to catch glimpses of it. This is not easy, as our defenses are sometimes good at keeping it out of view. However, finding our shadow might be a little like bird watching, or finding shark’s teeth at the beach: If the intention is there, and we know what to look for, it may be elusive, but it is also ultimately knowable.

 

One of the best ways to catch a glimpse of our shadow is through our body and emotions. While we may be adept at keeping certain thoughts at bay, our bodies and feelings often will not cooperate. Depression, anxiety, disturbances, addictions, compulsions, physical pain and other physical or psychological symptoms are sometimes the result of disowned  parts of ourselves trying to get our attention. (Note: If a medical condition is suspected as the source of a painful condition, a physician should be consulted.)

 

Another sure way to spot our shadow is to look for it in what we project onto others. Jeremy Taylor, Unitarian minister and author of several books on dreams, refers to people as “projecting machines.” Taylor emphasizes how, in order to see something in ourselves, we must first project it outward onto someone else. For example, if a man sees and is frustrated with the passive or aggressive nature of another man, he may not yet recognize his own passive or aggressive qualities.

 

Another way to find the shadow is to look for it in our dreams. Because, on one level, everything we dream is an aspect of our own self, the potential for shadow-finding in dreams is immense. One predictable way in which this occurs is when an individual dreams of another person of their same gender. For example, if a woman is invested in seeing herself as serious and responsible, and she dreams of her free spirited sister allowing the bills to pile up while she lounges around, she may be seeing a disowned part of herself.

 

Most of us encounter our shadow in hundreds of ways every day, such as in our dreams, the people we come into contact with, movies, books, plays, work situations and primary relationships. Even what we day dream about could show us disowned parts of ourselves or repressed memories, if only we pay attention.

 

                                   

How To Turn Toward The Shadow

 

Finally, in the journey toward growth, wholeness and self-discovery, we need ways to get to know and integrate our shadow material. The following list includes a few ways to do this:

 

When a disturbing thought or feeling arises, take time to turn toward it, welcome it, and be still with it. If possible, go to a quiet place. Breathe deeply. Focus on the disturbing or painful feeling/experience. Hold it in awareness, and let go of any negative thoughts toward it. If possible, welcome it and put forth an intention to listen to it and learn from it. Breathe into it.

 

Journal, using “Active Imagination.” Choose a dream image, and ask it questions. Write down both the questions and the answers. The idea here is to allow the answers to arise spontaneously from the unconscious. Write down whatever shows up. Resist the temptation to force a question or answer, or to judge it. Sometimes, the sillier or more off the wall the answer is, the more right on it turns out to be. Ask: “What is here? What is going on? Who or what are you? What do you like or dislike? What are you afraid of?”   Insights will come sometimes, but not always. The practice of being still, asking, and listening is what counts, and will make a difference over the long run.

 

Practice taking back projections. When strong feelings of like or dislike for another person show up, make a list of what you like or dislike about that person. Then ask, “Where does this quality show up in me?”

 

Practice “I am that too.” Jeremy Taylor adopted and advocates this practice from the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Whenever the urge to judge another is present, practice the thought “I am that too.”

 

If possible, do the work with a therapist or spiritual director. Something powerful occurs when we confess (or, “own”) a part of our self to a trusted other, and learn that all of our parts, even if painful or undesirable, are ultimately acceptable and make sense. Often, deep healing occurs in relationship.

 

Remember SOS, which can stand for “See it, Own it, Say it.” Recalling SOS may help us remember to stay alert and watchful, own what is ours rather than projecting it on others, and then to invite the healing power of relationship to work for us as we share our journey with a trusted other.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Shadow work requires persistence, patience, and sometimes, the ability to be present with pain. Like many endeavors in life, the reward – including a greater sense of wholeness, a sense of waking up to our lives, and ultimately an increased capacity to love – is worth the effort. For many of us, our well being depends on this work, and, as our own inner light shines brighter, our efforts will benefit the people whose paths we cross. And ultimately, we can be deeply gratified to know that our work is transforming the world we live in, one step at a time.

 

 

Recommended Reading:

Romancing The Shadow by Connie Zweig and Steve Wolf

Jung To Live By by Eugene Pascal

Inner Work by Robert Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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August 18, 2007

Using the Soaps to Explore Your Unconscious

Filed under: 2007 and earlier,Claire's Articles,Dreams & The Unconscious — karunacounseling @ 6:40 pm
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by Claire N. Scott, Ph.D.

Using soap operas (or movies or books) to learn about the contents of your unconscious mind is not as bizarre an idea as it first may sound. We all probably can appreciate the fact that certain characters or themes are timeless and ageless, like the seemingly eternal appeal of Superman, Tarzan stories, Romeo and Juliet, Cleopatra, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

If we stop to ask why the appeal, I think we may quickly arrive at the psychological theory of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung and his work on “archetypes.” An archetype can be thought of as a pervasive and enduring idea, character, pattern or theme, which appears universally across many cultures. It is often revealed in art, literature, stories, and myths … and in the popular culture in movies and soaps. Admittedly characters in soaps and movies may be a diluted version of an archetype — perhaps more like a stereotype than an archetype, but the underlying archetype is usually discernible. Some easily recognized archetypes are:

The hero

The martyr

The seductress

The maiden

The mentor

The student

The warrior

The witch or wizard

The hermit

The clown

The healer

The rebel

The villain

The monk (or nun)

The judge

Perhaps you can think of popular characters that capture the energy of these archetypes. One reason movies and books are so compelling is that they portray these archetypes in their various incarnations. Another reason is that archetypal energies live in each of us.

Jung believed that archetypes reside in our unconscious, and that events in our lives pull up or ‘activate’ archetypal energy. Archetypes help us know what to do – how to fight when being a warrior is called for, how to be a free spirit and indulge our wanderlust when that’s what’s calling us, how to put our own needs aside and help others when that’s what’s needed, how to be soft and caring, how to strike out on our own, how to get up and try again when we suffer defeat. Archetypes are also part of why most everyone tends to go through some predictable patterns in their lives, e.g., separation from parents, developing an individual identity, making our own way in the world, learning to meet and deal with challenges, forming relationships, parenting, going through losses, etc. In her book The Hero Within, Carol Pearson suggested that we need to progress through the energy of six different archetypes during our lives in order to be able to come into the “magician” archetype, usually thought of as being the most evolved and well-integrated of the archetypes. The six she explores in her book are the innocent, the orphan, the wanderer, the warrior, the martyr and the magician.

Here are some questions I came up with to help you explore a bit about your archetypal energies.

1. Who is your favorite soap or movie or book character? Describe what you like about him or her.

(If your first answer contains references to a body part, try again and dig a little deeper.)

Your answer to this question might be representative of where you are on your life’s journey and what is important to you at this stage – either in yourself or in others. For example, if your favorite character was chosen from a “romantic interest” perspective (someone you’re attracted to), you might have chosen that person because you would like to form a relationship right now. You might also ask yourself what partnering with a person like that would mean to you. Would you then be complete, cool, important, cherished, safe? The answer to that question might speak to what’s missing in your life, or in you – what your unmet needs are or what you’d like to grow in yourself.

If, to give another example, the character is just entertaining or different, perhaps you need more fun in your life, or perhaps your life feels boring or lackluster to you. Could you need to develop the part of yourself that is able to play and enjoy life? Ask yourself what it is about that energy that appeals to you.

2. What character would you most like to be like? Why?

This question is particularly important because it speaks to what Jung called one’s ‘bright shadow.’ The person you chose is likely to be a manifestation of potential in yourself that you may not have recognized yet. If the characteristics were not in you in some form, you could not appreciate them in the character. The attributes you admire could represent some undeveloped aspect of yourself which you could develop over time.

3. Answering as honestly as you can, what character do you think you are the most like? How are you similar to, and different from, that character?

If your answers to 2 and 3 are the same, then you are ahead of the game. You are as you would like to be right now in your life. If your answers are different, then take a good look at this one. Is it okay with you to be like you are for now? Do you think you are in an understandable place for your age and stage of life? What do you like about being as you are? What would you like to change? Perhaps the #2 character is what you are hoping to grow into. Remember that life is a journey. You won’t always be as you are now. You can and will change.

4. Which character do you like least? Why?

There are two possible ways to interpret your answer to this question. One is from a values perspective, and the other is from a ‘dark shadow’ perspective.

The values perspective goes like this: This character may have offended some deeply held value of yours. For example, if you chose someone who is dishonest and deceitful, your dislike may be simply because those qualities are so abhorrent to you. If this is the case, you can use your reaction to gain insight into what your values are. It may also be worthwhile to examine the ‘dark shadow’ perspective. It could shed additional light on the matter.

The ‘dark shadow’ perspective goes like this: this character may strike a dissonant chord because it is similar to an unattractive part of you that you are not able to see in yourself. You may recall my mentioning the ‘bright shadow’ as our undeveloped potential. The ‘dark shadow’ is our unknown, unowned, and unacknowledged negative side. When we are not aware of our shadow side, bright or dark, we are likely to project it onto others and see the characteristics in them but not in ourselves. In dealing with our dark shadow projection, it takes courage and introspection to realize we actually may be somewhat like the character or person we dislike. You probably have noticed this ability to not see oneself clearly in other people. You may have heard someone complain about another person, and you think to yourself, you’re the one that’s like that, not them.

A clue that a dark shadow projection may be going on is the intensity with which you dislike the character. The more intense your reaction, the more likely you are dealing with your own unconscious material. A caution: this information is not meant to induce shame. It is meant as information to help you take a deeper look at yourself. Remember, that which is unconscious has more power over us. The more we can bring the unconscious to consciousness, the more power we can exert over it.

Interest in archetypes has been around for a long time, but it seems to have come into popular vogue again with Caroline Myss’s book Sacred Contracts, published in 2001. She devoted an entire book to discovering the archetypes active within you, and gives some excellent strategies for exploring how those archetypes work for, and sometimes against, you. If you are interested in this topic, I recommend that book. Be prepared to spend some serious and intense time journaling and talking to yourself.

Another useful book for therapists and clients alike is Rent Two Films and Let’s Talk in the Morning by Jan and John Hesley. It was published in 1998 so some films are a bit dated, but others, like It’s A Wonderful Life, have become classics. In addition to archetypal characters, films can be useful in depicting modern versions of archetypal themes or journeys. Castaway, for example, is a wonderful ‘rite of passage’ film. For an excellent exploration of that film, see Saying Yes to Change: Essential Wisdom for your Journey by Joan Borysenko and Gordon Dveirin.

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