Aha! Moments of the Ego. Part 2 (i)
The last post looked at Gremlins and how to recognize them. Even when we still have much work to do in overcoming our conditioned mind, at least we can lure the Gremlins out into the open, into the light of consciousness.
This is trickier with our “shadow” self. We could think of our shadow as a collection of lunatics the ego keeps locked up in our psychic attic. The lunatics are not so easy to bring into the light of day because the ego invests so much energy in denying their existence. The ego far prefers to hide behind its masks, or personas as Jung called them. Most shadows were formulated in childhood when we were unable to bear what was happening to us. So our ego buried the events deep in our unconscious, an understandable but deadly strategy because the ego is now at war with the shadow.
Shadows will retaliate no matter how much the ego tries to deny and repress them. They just keep popping up, sometimes as bad moods, phobias or compulsive ideas, and sometimes in dreams. According to Jung, nightmares often present the shadow as ‘primitive’, a ‘savage’, a wild man, ape or other wild beast, or a monster. Such monsters represent traumatized, dissociated parts of the psyche hidden away so that you can present the persona ofa strong, powerful and attractive member of society. When the shadow bursts into life in the dream world the ego can perceive it as a mortal threat to this persona. So we have a fragmented psyche: the false self or persona that the ego has totally identified with versus the murky shadow that the ego has pushed down into unconsciousness.
The game of fitting into society compels us to show only ‘acceptable’ parts of ourselves. As Jung noted, ‘We have a certain idea of how a civilized or educated or moral person should live’. We are so desperate for approval that we hide our ‘shameful’ parts behind our public masks. Everything that we deem to be ugly, sinful, weak or ridiculous aspects of ourselves are locked behind prison bars, leaving only the persona with its fake posturing and social ambitions. It costs a lot to run this prison - 24 hour surveillance, barbed wire fences, dogs etc. The cost isn’t financial. You pay with your whole life and the cost is suffering. It takes huge amounts of psychic energy to construct and maintain this prison populated by your unacceptable, shameful shadow elements. This is what makes the shadow deadly. If the gap between the persona and the shadow grows too big and the energy required to maintain the division becomes too exhausting, a breakdown can result. The shadow can turn daemonic, becoming an energy field of vengeful energy, hating the ego’s false self and hell bent on destroying it.
All the energy poured into the shadow could be freed up for vibrant living if the ego would only allow it. If we want to stop being a victim or pawn of our shadow, then we must establish a truce between the ego and the shadow. We must reintegrate the shadow back into the psyche, rather than have it menacing our lives from the murky depths of our unconscious. It has to be faced.
The quote from this client shows her facing shadow elements presented as bodily experiences:
“Instead of immediately going for cover I ask myself what this sensation is trying to tell me”
Practices for Unearthing the Shadow
To begin to get more familiar with your shadow, do your best to answer these questions (however partial your answers might be):
- What do I least want others to know about me?
- What do I tend to have a disproportionate reaction to?
- What qualities of mine do I often feel aversion toward?
- What do I most easily project onto others?
- Which emotions do I consider to be negative?
- Which emotions am I the least comfortable expressing?
- Who or what specifically was I trying to get away from in those dreams of mine in which I was trapped or being pursued?
- What am I most scared to openly express or share in a relationship?
Don’t worry if you don’t have clear answers for all of these questions. To even attempt to answer them brings you into the domain of your shadow, however slightly. The lighting may be dim and your steps tentative, but at least you are approaching your shadow. The very act of turning toward it is a major step in your evolution, no matter how slight such movement initially may be.