The Shadow Archetype
The shadow contains our weaknesses, undesired traits, repressed ideas and desires which we find difficult to accept as part of us. It is usually known to be dark and mysterious – therefore the name, Shadow. It is often unexpressed and rejected but surely it is always there, just as other archetypes are.
“Everyone carries a shadow and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” – Carl Jung
Projection as a Manifestation of the Shadow Archetype
Projection is mechanism of psychological defense whereby we see in others those characteristics, feelings or impulses that we would not accept in ourselves. This way, we can recognize that quality and also have a rejecting relationship with it in the conscious mind, by seeing it in someone else. We turn a personal inferiority into someone else’s deficiency.
While the projection allows for the shadow to be seen in the conscious, it creates even a bigger illusion that characteristics we openly detest cannot be our own.
Several ways in which projection manifests in our daily lives are: assuming that others are critical of your performance, when it is you who is feeling insecure about it, a person who has a short temper believing that others have anger issues, damning someone for cheating and thinking that we are incapable of doing the same, someone who feels a compulsion to steal, fearing that something valuable belonging to them might get stolen etc. Often, feelings and thoughts around sex and aggression are the most repressed aspects of the psyche and therefore most easily projected.
Role of the Society in Breeding the Shadow
Not only do individuals have shadows but there are collective shadows that society breeds. Often, living up to societal norms requires an individual to suppress his true self for the fear of being exposed and shamed.
With time the entire society develops a shadow- and when the shadow finds an expression, the society refuses to accept it as a part of itself, thus proclaiming its rejection of those qualities. Rapists, terrorists, shady dance bars and drunkards lying on the road may all be parts of a society’s collective shadow expressing itself. This is a dark side expressed only in a form that gets condemned and, so as to be condemned. We often wonder little about how these sexual and aggressive expressions have got bred by us in a way, by the very act of trying to suppress them.
We often see or hear in the news, about some Godman, who gives talks on ethics and religion, caught performing some act – either sexual or vile as per the society’s standards. Overnight, this makes his or her followers turn against the person. Such instances are indicative of how society worships a puritanical ethic but rejects the shadow. If the shadow is better integrated, we may able to listen and take the wealth of knowledge even from a man who admits to having sexual desires or fantasies. Having those does not necessarily diminish his understanding of life. We may then neither worship and put on a pedestal nor condemn such a man.
Confronting the Shadow Archetype in Story and Myth
Since the shadow exists as an unacknowledged part of self, one of the safest ways to confront its existence is through story and myth. The villains and vamps are made of ideas that the shadow holds. Often, stories show a clear divide between good and evil characters, but some writers have time and again allowed the hero to be grey.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the same person. The same, people-friendly Dr. Jekyll has a dark sinister side to him, that comes up in the night (makes sense for the dark side to express at a dark time like the night). Night is also a time when the society’s guard is relaxed, when people are watching other people less which makes it easier for the repressed aspects of the self, in this case Mr. Hyde to come out into the open with a vengeance against the society that is even causing this aspect of him to be repressed in the first place.
In Dr. Jekyll’s situation, the shadow is so repressed that another personality altogether different needs to emerge. However with other stories, for instance with Neo in Matrix or with Bruce Wayne (Batman) in Dark Knight, it is seen that they have a shadow/weakness that is closer to awareness. In their cases they needed a mentor (another archetype that we will discuss later in the context of the hero archetype) to guide them, to help them integrate their shadow.
In the movie ‘The Dark Knight’, there’s a beautiful scene where there is an exchange between Batman and the Joker. While the Joker is a trickster archetype, he does expose the shadow of the society as a means to weakening Batman’s resolve to save that society. In his own trickster way, he provokes Batman by saying all the things that Batman may have denied to himself.
Integration of the Shadow Archetype
In stories, it is often seen that only when the hero becomes truly aware of his own shadow aspects, can he fully come into his real power and follow his real calling.
That is true for the hero in us too! Only when we integrate and open up to our shadow can we come into our true power and live freely.
Working with the shadow in some sense is one of the primary goals of therapy. Integration – accepting ourselves for who we are – sets us free. Integration aims at a freedom to exist in the here and now with all virtues and vices that we perceive in ourselves.
Integrating the shadow of course does not mean that we need to act on our desires that may be harmful to others or to ourselves. The idea is to nevertheless acknowledge the presence of these aspects in ourselves, thus allowing the feelings of compassion for ourselves and others. Thus, self-compassion is often a prerequisite to inviting the shadow to exist as a part of us.
It is hard to try and live up to an idealized image of ourselves that we create in our minds. It takes even more courage to learn to see ourselves for what we really are.