Jung and the Shadow

Jung wrote that the shadow is first of all the whole of the unconscious. When we realise that the shadow is the great unknown from even before birth.

When our first experience of awareness from our developing senses and chemical signals, a whole world of biological development leaves its mark.

Our deepest experience is that of being formed from one cell into a complete human being, and that experience is embedded in the very fabric of us.

As we further form, the building blocks of our existence retreat further into the shadows, where they form the deepest layer of the unconscious, which Jung termed the psychoid.

The psyche, Jung found, is comprised of both conscious and unconscious material. This “psychic material” includes thoughts, feelings, images, attitudes, motivations, judgments, and impulses.


Archetypes are universal, inborn models of people, behaviours, and personalities in human behaviour. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s theory suggested that these archetypes were forms of human knowledge passed down from our ancestors.

In Jungian psychology, these archetypes represent universal patterns and images that are part of the collective unconscious. Jung believed that we inherit these archetypes much in the way we inherit instinctive patterns of behaviour.

Jung identified four major archetypes but also believed that there was no limit to the number that may exist. The existence of these archetypes cannot be observed directly but can be inferred by looking at religion, dreams, art, and literature. Jung’s four major archetypes are: the persona, the shadow, the anima/animus, and the self.

The Self

The self is an archetype that represents the unified unconsciousness and consciousness of an individual. 

Conscious material is the stuff we know about ourselves. Unconscious material is all of the stuff we don’t know.

Jung suggested that there were two different centres of personality:

  • The ego makes up the centre of consciousness, but it is the self that lies at the centre of personality.
  • Personality encompasses not only consciousness but also the ego and the unconscious mind.

You can think of this by imagining a circle with a dot right at the centre. The entire circle makes up the self, where the small dot in the middle represents the ego.

Jung the self

As a general rule, there is a lot more unconscious material hiding from us.

What is the Shadow?

From the work of psychiatrist Carl Jung. The shadow is a part of us.

It originates in our physical formation, in our childhood development, and in our adult attempts to become normal human beings. It is so much a part of who we are, we are yet terrified of the shadow.

The shadow is the “dark side” of our personality because it consists of primitive, negative human emotions and impulses like rage, envy, greed, selfishness, desire, and the striving for power.

We feel that it will pull us down back into our past, and our hard-won battle for the light of consciousness will have been for nothing.

We make desperate attempts to deny the shadow, using a whole range of ego-defences for this purpose.

Projection, splitting, rationalisation, acting out are some of the common mechanisms we use to keep the lid firmly on this dark secret box. Our attempts to deny and escape the shadow however, create a deep split within us. How can we experience ourselves as whole when we spend our waking lives running away from ourselves?

Everything we deny in ourselves—whatever we perceive as inferior, evil, or unacceptable—becomes part of the shadow.

Anything incompatible with our chosen conscious attitude about ourselves comes down to this dark side.

How does the Shadow grow?

Every young child knows kindness, love, and generosity. But he also expresses anger, selfishness, and greed.

These emotions are part of our shared human experience. However, as we grow up, something happens.

As children, when we expressed certain parts of ourselves, we received negative cues from our environment.

Traits associated with “being good” are accepted, while others associated with “being bad” are rejected.

We all have basic human needs – physiological, safety, and security, and a need for belonging.

These needs are biological and instinctual.

Maybe as a child we got angry and threw a tantrum. Our parents probably told us off and sent us to our room.

At School we probably made a mistake, talked too much or were silly in our classroom. Our teacher maybe shamed us in front of the class and told us to sit down.

Whenever it happened—and it might have happened often—it threatened one of our basic needs.

Would the disapproval of our parents threaten our safety? Would the disapproval of our teachers and classmates jeopardise our need to belong?

We adjusted our behaviour to gratify our needs and learned to adapt to the external world.

What does the Shadow do?

Any part we disown within us eventually turns against us. The shadow represents a collection of these disowned parts.

So here’s the problem: The shadow can operate independently without our full awareness.

Almost like, your conscious self goes on autopilot while the unconscious shadow self takes control.

  • We do things we wouldn’t usually do and later regret (if we catch it).
  • We say things we wouldn’t normally say.
  • Our facial reactions express emotions we don’t consciously feel.
  • We lack awareness or care of how our actions affect and influence others.

What happens if we ignore the Shadow?

Remaining unconscious of the shadow hurts our relationships.

Whatever qualities we deny in ourselves, we see in others. In psychology, this is called projection. We project onto others anything we bury within us.

This process doesn’t happen consciously. We aren’t aware of our projections.

The ego uses this mechanism to defend itself—to defend its perceived self-identity.

Our false identities of being “good” keep us from realising what our shadow is up to.

These projections distort reality, creating a boundary between how we view ourselves and how we behave in reality.

Why look into Shadow Work

Five Benefits of Jungian Shadow Work

1. Improved Relationships

As you come to terms with your darker half, you see yourself more clearly. You become more grounded, human, and whole.

When you can accept your darker parts, it is easier to accept the shadow in others.

As a result, other people’s behaviour won’t trigger you as easily. You’ll also have an easier time communicating as well.

You may notice an improvement in your relationships with your spouse, family members, friends, and business colleagues.

2. Clearer Perception

In seeing others and yourself as you are—without distortions brought on by self-deception—you’ll have a cleaner lens with which to view the world.

As you integrate your shadow, you’re approaching your authentic self, which gives you a more realistic assessment of who you are.

You won’t perceive yourself as being too great (inflated) or too small (deflated).

When you’re self-aware, you can assess your environment more accurately from a state of neutrality.

You’ll see others and evaluate situations with greater clarity and understanding.

3. More Energy and Better Physical Health

To continually repress all the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to face is exhausting.

Fatigue and lethargy can plague the unexamined life. Mental suppression can also lead to physical pain, disease, and addictive behaviours.

With Jungian shadow work, you liberate a tremendous reservoir of energy you were unconsciously investing in protecting yourself.

This can greatly improve your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Shadow Work can bring you inner strength and a greater sense of balance, making you better equipped to take on life’s challenges.

4. Psychological Integration and Maturity

As long as we deny our shadows and repress certain parts of ourselves, a sense of wholeness, integration, and unity is elusive.

How can we feel a sense of wholeness and balance with a divided mind?

Developmental research suggests that only a very small percentage (less than 5%) ever reach mature psychological development.

That is, psychological maturity is rare.

Integrating the shadow brings you one step closer to realising a sense of wholeness. It’s a critical step to achieving mature adulthood.

5. Greater Creativity

Jungian shadow work unlocks more of your creative potential.

Psychologists like Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers found, creativity is a spontaneous occurrence in mentally healthy (integrated) individuals.

In fact, Jung found that all of his patients began engaging in acts of self-expression—drawing, painting, dancing, sculpting, fictional writing, etc—at a certain stage in the process of inner work.

Author: PsyNurse

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top