The Shadow in Action

What would people say about you:  Are you kind? Seek to understand? Listen as well as talk? Have compassion for those less fortunate? Are you generous?   Do you offer to help, or do you judge?

Or do they see you as wanting to be “top dog”? Seeking power to wield over people?  Having a need to show you are superior or smarter to others? Do they see you as judgmental?  Self-righteous?  A bully to others? 


These are some of the questions we all have to ask about ourselves. The Shadow is in each of us, whatever race, religion, nationality, age or gender you are.


Let’s start by looking at some examples of the shadow in action in the familiar territory of sex, money and political power:


Businessman’s affair:  A man named Walt tells everyone that his marriage and family are the most important things in his life and he sincerely believes it.  He is very successful businessman and everything he does is with his family in mind.  He has been married for more that25 years and loves his wife, his two children and his two dogs.  Walt was “drawn into” an affair with a colleague at work that he kept very private.  It never interfered with his family life until a reporter discovered it while investigating Walt’s company and its board members for an article.  When the account was published, Walt’s wife and children were shocked.  All the values Walt had professed seemed phony.  His wife left him (taking along half his fortune) and took the children with her. Walt only saw his kids on the weekends and their relationship was strained. 


Walt said he “values” his wife and family above all else, and everything he does is with them in mind.  But was this the value he lived out in his life?  Why did he risk so much?  Did it never occur to him he could be caught and lose what he valued most?   This is the Shadow at work.


Failure to save:  A married couple were trying to get ahead financially so they could buy a house.  They had created a savings plan with the help of their accountant, and committed to putting money away regularly. They each agreed that was what they needed to do.  However, the wife always found something she felt she needed to buy that she couldn’t afford.   She had trouble understanding why she wasn’t able to control her impulses and felt defeated.  She told her husband and the accountant that it wasn’t really her fault, she just really needed the things she bought and had no choice. She felt she deserved nice things and they should cut spending somewhere else or her husband should get a higher paying job. She even began accusing her husband of being a “tightwad” and wasn’t making enough money, she felt that was really the problem. He could do better, and it wasn’t her fault he wasn’t making enough money.


Did Joyce make a true commitment to save money?  Where is her self-disciplined to rein in her spending and why is she blaming her husband?  Why is she self-sabotaging the very thing she and her husband agreed is necessary? Again, her shadow of unresolved childhood issues got in the way and she damaged her marriage by her behavior.


The shadow of the group:  The shadow is not only seen in individuals but in groups, cults and religions.  It is most clearly seen in wars and conflicts where the “enemy” is somehow considered “lesser” than us and dehumanized.  It is easier “to take advantage of people” to take financial advantage, be unkind, be unfair, feel less empathy and even feel superior to them—if we see them as less than they are or as “nameless people” that we don’t know or see. 


Carl Jung, the psychoanalyst, taught us that this kind of projection (and dehumanization of others) came from the shadow side of unresolved childhood issues and created much of the problems we see in the world today.  We can only hope and pray that our nation’s leaders are not acting out of their own shadows, looking for ill-perceived enemies, slights and threats everywhere and therefore lead us down paths, or into wars, where we should not go.


The reality is that our unconscious childhood scripts keep repeating in our lives and can keep us stuck, unhappy, unfair with others, insensitive and uncaring. People in a position of power can do great damage when they bring these unconscious shadows into positions of authority and project them onto the “world stage”.  They can hurt, when they are meant to help, they can be unfair, when they have the power to deliver justice, they can see and treat others as less than they are, or “rip off the system” to spite authority, feeling entitled to do or say anything they want.


True maturity, creativity and goodness can spring from the constructive integration of the shadow into our consciousness.  It can result in true spirituality and a feeling of loving your neighbor as you love yourself.  God said “Let there be light” and He separated the light from the darkness.  This light is with us when we strive to see ourselves and others as humans that should be treated with love, kindness and respect.  But we can only do this when we have some understanding of the hurts and wounds of our own childhood and therefore have empathy for others. Life is a repetition compulsion:  what we don’t understand or know about ourselves can turn up in our lives as “fate”, for good or bad it will appear and it will touch others and either help or harm them.


The goal of life is to become mature so we can fully live out our calling.  This means we must understand and accept our weaknesses so that we can compensate for them and protect ourselves and others.  The more we can understand our shadow, the better chance we have to protect ourselves (and others) from its sabotaging effects.


Much more about recognizing and controlling your shadow can be found in my new book “Finding the Port that has Your Name” which has recently been published as an e-book on Amazon. You can find it at .


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