One of the hallmarks of Carl Jung’s work is his conceptualization of the shadow. Roughly speaking, the shadow consists of instincts, aspects, qualities, and the like that are unrecognized or repressed in oneself. Jung did not believe that the shadow was only comprised of bad things but also included good parts and positive potentialities (Sharp, 1991).
However, Jung believed that ignoring the shadow had dangerous consequences since he believed this simply contributed to the person continuing to operate through life in an unconscious manner, driven by forces unknown to the individual. Therefore, Jung earnestly believed that the task (or process) of assimilating one’s shadow is an essential one that each individual has a responsibility to undertake for the development of one’s personality.
Another central feature of Jung’s work is not solely focusing on the individual but instead demonstrating the interconnectedness between the inner and outer worlds, the individual and the collective. This lens allows us to observe the ways our interactions with the outside world affect the state of our inner world. This can be reversed to observe the way our inner world is affected by the happenings of the outer world. It is the latter of these two vantage points that offer an entry into what is called Shadow Work, which is the conscious process of becoming aware of parts of oneself that had previously been hidden or repressed and working to find a way of coming to terms with these parts that are viewed by the conscious mind as being in someway unacceptable.
Below is a quote from Joseph R. Lee, who is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and Certified Jungian Analyst, sharing his thoughts on a recent episode (#217) of the podcast This Jungian Life:
We are in a stunning time in the western world. Where powerful cultural mechanisms have been set in motion which support us in disavowing enormous aspects of our own nature and allowing us to weaponize our own denial, so that we will find targets of people, institutions, religions, any numbers of things, where we will lay parts of our own unacceptable nature and then participate with great fervor in the destruction of the thing we’ve landed our shadow on and the motivation to annihilate the thing that I have pushed my shadow into has reached a shocking, shocking level in our culture.
Jung offers us an antidote for that, but it cannot be forced on anyone; the only way out of the place we are in our culture is to see that the enemy is us, and if we have any hope for transforming this muddy painful mess that we’ve all created in our culture it’s in the redemption, and the purifying fire that is set in motion when we reclaim our accusations and transform them into statements that declare what I do not want to know about myself (Lee, Marchiano, & Stewart, 2022, 44:46-46:47).
This excerpt addresses the rampant and intensifying reliance on and usage of projection to sidestep our dire need for inner work, both as individuals and as a collective society. It is through our perpetual avoidance, assisted by the mechanisms of denial, projection, and the like, that the societal we have been able to maintain this unyielding holding pattern between the polarizing forces vying for societal control.
Nevertheless, the underlying tension between these opposing forces has not been stagnant; rather, it is growing in intensity with the amassing of each piece of reality suppressed, denied, distorted, or in any other way blocked from the path of integration. The path that is not sought after—at least collectively—is nonetheless the path necessary for wielding the enormity of the tension between the opposites present in our time. Nevertheless, the responsibility lies on each of us to learn to navigate this path, if not for the purpose of growth as an individual, then, at least, as a citizen indebted to some degree or another to each other.
Lee, J. A, Marchiano, L., & Stewart, D. (Hosts). (2022, June 10). Death: A Jungian perspective [Audio podcast episode]. This Jungian Life. https://thisjungianlife.com/episode-217-death
Sharp, D. (1991). C. G. Jung Lexicon: A Primer of Terms and Concepts (Studies in Jungian Psychology by Jungian Analysts) (First Edition). Inner City Books.
Holding Pattern of the Tension of Opposites [Digital Image]. Self-created (2022). https://nightcafe.studio/