It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses- and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster.
~ Carl Jung, [on the] Psychology of the Unconscious.
If any of you have done self-exploration or self-improvement things, you may have come across some personality traits that are terrorizing and disturbing to accept about yourself. In the wonderful world of psychology, psychologist Carl Jung devoted his time to studying the issue of Shadow Selves or Alter Egos. He thought that finding out more about your Shadow Self would not only treat the mind of man but his soul as well. He believed our unconscious minds are fragmented or structured into different selves in an attempt to organize how we experience different things in life. Two of Jung's major Archetypes are The Persona and the Shadow Self.
(Note: This is not to be confused with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder). It's just a way of explaining how we react to different curveballs in life).
The Birth Of The Shadow Self
First of all, let's define The Persona and Shadow Self, shall we? According to Jung, The Persona defines what we would like to be and how we wish to be seen by the world. The word Persona is a latin word meaning mask. An example of a persona would be all of the different social masks that we wear among different groups of people and situations.
On the other hand, the Shadow Self is an archetype that forms part of the unconscious mind and is composed of repressed ideas, instincts, impulses, weaknesses, desires, perversions and embarrassing fears. This archetype is often described as the darker side of the psyche, representing wildness, chaos and the unknown.
When we're born, we're like a blank canvas, with no mistakes or painful experiences in it. But as we grow older and begin to experience life and learn about society, our canvas gets covered in scars of what society and the people in our lives want us to be. Furthermore, in our cultural "socialization'" process, we begin to sort out those traits within us that are acceptable in society, and those that aren't get hidden away. Thus, the dark shadow traits that we all possess accumulate in the corners of our unconscious minds, never becoming adequately integrated into our conscious minds because we never see our split state in the first place (due to our psychological "defense mechanisms"). And so we continue on accumulating these dark desires, motivations and fears.
This can be dangerous. If we keep repressing our emotions we're letting our Shadow Selves grow and get stronger so that one day the dragon will break out of its dungeon, overpowered the person through depression, major panic attacks, and psychotic breakdowns. This can lead to mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and possibly suicidal thoughts and attempts (been there).
(Note: This is why I feel like we all need to find a constructive way to release our suppressed emotions. For me, it's always been dancing or singing while crying at night. For others, it could be art, story writing, journaling, coloring etc. This is also why I have the, "What's happened to you?"approach to treating mental disorders as opposed to "What's wrong with you?" approach).
Repression of the Shadow Self
We begin to repress our Shadow Self because the emotions and what our Alter Ego signifies is against the rule in society. We aren't allowed to be angry because "Angry people can be violent and violent people have schizophrenia." and "We can't cry in public because we'll seem weak and weak people are easy targets." This is why some people end up breaking at some point. Because society has taught us to bottle our emotions, not constructively release them when necessary. We are born whole and complete but start to lead incomplete lives, accepting some parts of nature and rejecting or ignoring others.
Some examples of what society deems socially acceptable or unacceptable are the habits that are perceived differently in different cultures. In America, for example, eye contact is perceived as confident and engaging, whereas in Japan it's perceived as arrogant and rude. In American TV shows depicting violent murders is considered more acceptable than showing nudity or sexual acts, whereas in Europe it's the complete opposite. It's totally acceptable for people to drink alcohol at sixteen in France but illegal to do that in America.
In a nutshell, the repression of our negative traits or emotions in society is one of the biggest barriers in any ones' journey towards self-love and living authentically. How can you completely and wholeheartedly accept who you are if there are sides of yourself that you're too afraid to explore?
The Right and Left Handed Paths
Now, I want to think of the "light" side of you and the "dark" side of you as your dominate and non-dominate hand. Growing up, you're taught to do everything with your dominate hand. You write with that hand, you might pitch or bat with that hand etc. You're never really taught to do things with your non-dominate hand because it's rendered useless. That's the same thing with the "light" and "dark" side of you. You're meant to show the "light" side of you, that comes with emotions such as compassion, love, peace, joy, and harmony while suppressing the "dark" side of you, that comes with emotions such as anger, vengeance, control, fear, shame, competitiveness, jealousy, lust etc.
(Fun Fact: Throughout history the left has always been associated with dark, radical or sinister elements. Even the etymology of the word "sinister" means "from the left side". In the olden days, if you were left handed you were forced to write with your right hand because that was the norm back then).
The light and dark side, also kinda follows this famous Melisandre quote from Game of Thrones,
The night is dark and full of terrors but the fire (or light) burns them all away. We're always told to keep a light on so we can see the terrifying shadows. And we do that until we are ultimately afraid of the dark. There needs to be a balance between the light and the dark, or the Persona and the Shadow Self. Just like in the Yin and Yang, when you reach a deep balance, suddenly the dichotomy of right and left will disappear.
I like to believe there was darkness first, after all, darkness is infinite. Under every rock, you will find darkness. When you shut a door, it becomes dark. When you turn off a light, it becomes dark. When the sun goes down, it becomes dark. The only way to drive out darkness is to bring in the light. To live peacefully, darkness and light need to coexist within each other. Unless you learn to first embrace that darkness within yourself, you can never pursue the light of self-love in a balanced way.
Embracing The Shadow Self
The journey on self-exploration like Dante's Inferno. Before making our way out of "hell" we must walk through the depths of our inner darkness. Many religions symbolize these experiences well. Two famous examples include the case of Jesus who had to face Satan in the desert and Buddha's encounter with Mara (the Buddhist Satan) before his "awakening".
When I say, we need to embrace our Shadow Self, I don't mean we need to start a war between someone for something they did. I mean that we need to accept that we will feel jealousy, anger, fear etc. And it's okay to feel that. It's human nature. Survival instinct. Accepting your darkness will allow you to take responsibility for yourself, and once you truly acknowledge one of these dark traits instead of avoiding them, suddenly, they will stop having control over you. By being honest with ourselves and accepting our shadow elements, it frees us up to truly witness the uncharted areas of our minds, allowing us to see that we are not these elements, but simply possess thoughts, feelings, and drives that come and go (like everything in life). You cannot simply go "beyond hatred" if first, you don't admit to yourself that you do in fact possess hateful feelings.
To completely experience Self-Love we must learn to experience our Shadow Selves, and voyage into the dark, murky waters of the unknown courageously. We do not need to fear oblivion. "Cause all though we'd like to know what life's got planned, no one knows if shooting stars will land. Things like that are never in your hand."
A whole and balanced self is a reconciliation of all parts, an inner unification. It is not an indulgence of the darker parts of our natures, but an acceptance and direct experience of them in the light of mindful awareness and deep honesty. To fully accept every part of you, the good and the bad is the best way to life an authentic life, which is one of my ever-going goals in life.
Exploring your darkness is not necessarily all doom and gloom. In fact, you may be surprised by the endless array of creative and interesting 'things' you find that have been secretively stored away. The majority of my improv solos on YouTube, have come from when I got in touch with my Shadow Self, whether I was going through a depression stage or whatnot.
To accept and embrace your Shadow Self is to go back and become "whole" again and thus taste a glimpse of what authentic "holiness" feels like.
Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose:
joy, happiness, negativity, or pain... To feel the freedom that comes from
being able to continuously make choices and mistakes. Today I choose life.
Not to deny my humanity but to fully embrace it.
I know this post was really long and deep. There will be two more posts in coming months along this same topic. They are all connected and linked together somehow. If you enjoyed it, please give this post a +1 on Google+, follow me on all my social media sites which will be linked below and leave me a comment if you liked this post. I will not be blogging next week so I will see you the following week. I love you all!
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