The Dark Side of getting to know yourself

The Dark Side of getting to know yourself

ShiaSia, an Australian singer, recently brought out a video that disturbed some people and drew a fair amount of criticism. The video is of an adult male and a young girl fighting in a cage. Sia responded to this criticism by saying that the two actors portray a single person, namely herself, and represent her two warring-self states. It is a wonderful depiction of the war between shadow and ego.

Coming to terms with your shadow is hard, unpleasant and often violent. The shadow does not wait around submissively to be seen and recognized. It screams and rages and shouts and fights and bites. And, of course, it is all you. The shadow is that which has been repressed, suffocated, abused, abandoned and neglected. It is the monkey on your back, whispering in your ear, turning your head to make you look at the things that it represents, those things that you don’t want to know about yourself.

If you are familiar with the Golden Compass series, you can liken the shadow to the dæmons that all the people are bonded to. Freud’s proverbial Id, which cannot hide its face and intentions. And to have your dæmon ripped from you is fatal. It is part of you and you cannot separate from it.

People try though. They try hard to suppress the shadow. They fear it. It scares them. It haunts their dreams. They believe that they are good and kind and sincere and nice. The bad in the world is out there, they can see it all around them and they are afraid.

Some people avoid the shadow by looking at the sun. Like Lucifer they chase enlightenment. Or they pursue knowledge and the intellect and get caught in mental masturbation, suppressing their feelings of anxiety and frustration.

Other people want to find something that will protect them from the evil. They believe that either the angels or some talisman will guard and keep them safe; or that if they ignore or pray for the evil in the world it will not affect them.

Most people focus on “what could be”, “should be”, “will be.” They think that they can control themselves and their environment. If they try harder, concentrate more, focus, think positively, it will all come right. They don’t work with what is.

But the truth is that the shadow is not under your control. It is out to get you and it will, no matter what.

There is nothing more destructive than ignoring your shadow. You lie, deceive, manipulate, and act out maliciously, which you then self-righteously justify to yourself so that you can carry on believing that you are “a nice person”. And it is so easy to justify your bad behaviour.
“They deserved it.”
“They had to be stopped.”
“Who doesn’t want to listen must feel.”
“I was only defending myself.”
“I will not be abused.”
“I was only trying to help them.”
“They had a right to know.”
“They were on the wrong path.”
“What are they so upset about?”

Of course the list is endless. And all the while you are surrounded by bad people. The world is full of evil. Everywhere you turn there is meanness, violence, hatred, selfishness and people full of wickedness. News flash! They only reflect what is inside your own heart. Acknowledging your shadow is the first and hardest step to becoming whole.

Being whole and not broken. Forgiving yourself, making friends with your shadow, accepting who you are, nurturing yourself, learning to love yourself for who you are really and not who you wish you were, these are some of the benefits you will reap from working with your shadow. It is dirty work, ongoing work, but, most importantly, also very rich and rewarding work.

Facing yourself in the mirror of the other, (which is) the world around you, is often disturbing and painful. If you dislike something or someone intensely, there is shadow content hidden in this relation. The object of your dislike contains something of your shadow in it. Deep and honest reflection will reveal it to you. Realising that you have the potential for dishonesty or being unfaithful is not easy. As is realising that you carry the pain and scarring from a devastating experience. But once in consciousness, it can be addressed and opposed or healed; whilst it remains unconscious it will wreak havoc in your life.
Similarly if you love and adore something, there are also these wonderful, exciting and surprising talents and hidden potential that remain untouched and unseen whilst in the unconscious.

By unearthing these guilts, sins, desires and hidden treasures you will liberate yourself. Suppressing desire and guilt takes an enormous amount of energy and eventually will express itself in your body as dis-ease and fatigue or depression. The biggest transformation you can experience is through the mining of your shadow. Whilst the shadow’s beliefs, desires and talents are hidden in the unconscious, it will not benefit you in the slightest. On the contrary, whilst unconscious it will thwart you at every turn. You will project these qualities onto others which does not expand or improve anyone, least of all yourself. You will shrink and become less and less until you are a petrified shallow version of yourself. Liberating the unconscious removes these projections, energizes you and expands both consciousness and personality.

Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected. C. G Jung [1]

Please heed this warning though.

This work is not for the person who believes that they will work through the shadow and come out the other side an even nicer person! This is not the goal nor is it a realistic expectation. Whilst you have this attitude, you will not make any progress. You will remain in the false belief that you are at heart a nice person. You are not a nice person, you are a bitch or bastard and this work is about facing that about yourself and integrating it into consciousness. You can’t extract these things from your psyche. They are there to stay. It is how you work with it and what you do with it that counts, but that means that on a daily basis you will be confronted by your shadow. You have to accept that these things are part of you and love yourself for it. You are not a cardboard copy of a perfect person. You are a human being and being whole is about embracing your humanity. How can you have compassion with the beggar and lost souls of the world if you do not recognise and have compassion for the beggar within?

Archimedes said, give me one firm place to stand and I will move the world. This image is an almost perfect metaphor for becoming conscious and working with the shadow. The firm place that is referred to is the ego-consciousness. The ego is the centre of, and our access to consciousness. The consciousness referred to here is that of self-awareness and self-knowledge. This work is about strengthening and amplifying ego-consciousness. Only by taking the role of the ego seriously can you do shadow work. The shadow represents the opposite to the conscious ego position; it is the true other in the psyche. Only by being fully incarnated in and present to the ego can this work be done. If your approach is to dis-incarnate (transcend) your ego-consciousness in favour of a “spiritual” or “karmic” type outlook, this work is not for you. If you are part of a new age movement, where the ego is something of a dirty word, something to ignore, because you are part of “a much bigger spiritual reality”, don’t pursue this path.

This work is for people who realise that they are human and fallible. It speaks to those who recognize that they have something to do with what they are experiencing in the world. It is for the courageous and fearless. It is for people who are willing to forgive and open their hearts to themselves. It is for people who, to borrow from Jung; want to be whole, not perfect.

To watch Sia’s music video reflecting her war with her shadow follow this link.

[1] “Psychology and Religion” (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131

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Comments (34)

  • Gill Andrew Reply

    I don’t know whi wrote this article but it is freaking So BRILLIANT!!!

    January 10, 2015 at 13:02
    • Anja Reply

      Thanks Gill. I wrote it. I was inspired by the video and some email correspondence I had with someone. I am glad you liked it.

      January 10, 2015 at 13:04
      • winson Reply

        Very insightful article

        January 10, 2015 at 18:10
        • Anja Reply

          Thanks Winson.

          January 12, 2015 at 10:05
      • Jacqueline Reply

        Excellent relevant article. Well written and explained Anja.

        January 14, 2015 at 14:20
        • Anja Reply

          Thank you Jacqueline.

          January 14, 2015 at 15:05
      • 2shy Reply

        I kinda disagree. I study Analytical Psychology and I can tell you that the shadow is not all bitch, bastard, killer and so on. I has good qualities as well and potential, which are generally repressed when a person thinks is bad. To say it in opposition to you, shadow work does mean that sometimes you end up a nicer person. This depends mostly on your one-sided ego attitude.
        Shadow work means you end up thinking before acting, means differentiation, it can also mean that you can choose and recognise the fact one is not really a killer, a bastard and a bitch. There is this potential as well but that doesn’t mean is me.

        November 7, 2015 at 21:41
        • Anja Reply

          Nicely put, thank you for your comment 2shy!

          November 8, 2015 at 15:46
    • Tee Reply

      Agreed! And I love Elastic Heart by Sia.

      November 9, 2015 at 06:11
  • Elze Reply

    I am looking forward to my journey of self discovery!! I’ve been aware of the shadow and its effect, but have battled to come face to face with it and integrate it in my psyche.

    January 11, 2015 at 07:50
    • Anja Reply

      Hi Elze, all the best for this journey. It is not easy and takes great courage. We will guide you every step of the way on the Programme.

      January 12, 2015 at 10:05
  • Jedediah Walls Reply

    Quite an interesting article! I had a little bit different take on the video, highlighting anima and animus over psyche and shadow. However, all four are definitely present. Here’s what I’ve written elsewhere:

    “This video is about a single identity trying to learn to cope with itself despite everything. But there are three people in this video, not two. Maddie is the Id, her unrestrained animalism echoes the unconscious urges of the psyche, the innocent, wild and carefree side of Sia. Labeouf is the ego, masculine, taciturn and wounded, everything that people aspire to be, but the part that absorbs all the pain and shame. They represent together Jungs Anima and Animus, the archetypal male and female inside all of us, locked in a cycle of self-loathing and self-love. Finally, the last person in the room is the camera, the point of view perspective, which is you, the viewer. All your shouts of “this is wrong” (but also those parts that love this, that jump between awe and revulsion) represents the super-ego, which is the societies norms and expectations that impose themselves upon us.”

    January 11, 2015 at 13:37
    • Anja Reply

      Thanks Jedediah, great input. I really like your take on the anima and animus aspect, it adds further depth and meaning.

      January 12, 2015 at 10:02
    • Jacqueline Reply

      Love you insight @Jedediah excellent note about the POV of the camera/audience.

      January 14, 2015 at 14:22
    • Susan Reply

      This video captures some amazing and thought provoking images and metaphors. Who isn’t able to relate on some level to the turmoil between the sexes, inside and out, in some way or another. How great that symbols have the ability to speak to individuals.

      February 14, 2015 at 21:13
  • Lenore Reply

    A great read, Anja! True food for thought.

    January 11, 2015 at 16:54
    • Anja Reply

      Thanks Lenore.

      January 12, 2015 at 10:00
  • Erin Reply

    This is why I like Jung so much. You have to learn to coexist with your shadow. I strongly recommend Owning Your Own Shadow by Robert Johnson.

    January 12, 2015 at 06:53
    • Anja Reply

      Thanks for the feedback and book suggestion Erin.

      January 12, 2015 at 10:00
  • Matt Reply

    This is great, I agree almost everything here, however What I disagree or maybe calls for a modification is that people are inherently a certain way and to accept it. Rather, one should accept what they are now and realize that from here, they can build and become wholly what they want to be. It takes determination and persistence being aware of your thoughts from moment to moment and changing them out one by one. But it all starts with “I can do this.” and believing it.

    January 12, 2015 at 10:55
    • Anja Reply

      Hi Matt. Thanks for your feedback. The idea in Jungian psychology is that you cannot change who you are, rather that you know who you are and then you can use these (shadow) qualities where they are appropriate. Containing shadow complexes is the goal here, not trying to change them. So a simple example here would be that if you are very aggressive enter a career where aggression is a virtue, and in this way you contain it and keep it out of your personal relationships.

      January 13, 2015 at 09:29
  • Karyla Reply

    This is one of the best articles on this subject I’ve seen – so clear to understand. And the comments from everyone help as well. Beautiful, Anja! Looking forward to reading more of your work!

    January 13, 2015 at 17:59
    • Anja Reply

      Thanks Karyla, looking forward to working with you too in CLP.

      January 13, 2015 at 18:15
  • Frances Kendall Reply

    Anja I think this article is great – this is how I interpret the shadow issue. Our nearest evolutionary ancestors are monkeys, in our genetic code we carry all the good and evil that comes from our evolutionary history. All the bad things humans do, and the good evolved because they helped us survive and now dominate the earth. We all carry them all. We are taught from an early age to suppress the anti-social behaviour because we are a highly cooperative and social species. But our consciousness – ego? – is the tiny tip of the iceberg ruled 100% by our unconscious which is perfectly willing to misrepresent itself for its own ends. We confabulate and believe our confabulations, create memories and are convinced by them etc etc. our conscious mind – ego – is extremely limited and unreliable, but the only tool we have to scratch beneath the surface and discover a bit of the reality – the dreadfulness &’the amazingness. That is how I make sense of the process.

    January 28, 2015 at 10:50
  • mark Reply

    Thank you Anja.
    This helps me get where some people are coming from who argue about ego with each other.

    I never delved much into Jung, only read little bits in college.

    I wonder if he had some blind spots after reading your piece.

    I do think that ego is one of those words like “God”; having a different meaning nearly with each different person using it.

    makes for much confusion.

    Also good to always get than no one’s construct or map, is exactly the territory and so it is quite good to take in several maps and then to actually go out into the territory where the mapmakers went and get and experiential knowledge of the reality for ones self, to go with the conceptual knowledge derived from the maps.

    Again, thank you.
    Thought provoking for me.

    February 5, 2015 at 06:36
  • Susan Reply

    “Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be.”

    Thanks for the great article, Anja!

    February 14, 2015 at 21:16
    • Stephen Reply

      Hear, hear.

      November 8, 2015 at 11:35
  • Nicoletta De Simone Reply

    Fantastic Anja, so clear and so well written!!! My compliments! May I translate it into italian and post it on my facebook page? With your signature, of course!!!
    Thanks and a big hug to you
    Nicoletta

    November 7, 2015 at 20:01
    • Anja Reply

      @Nicoletta, thank you so much and I would love for you to translate into Italian and share.

      November 8, 2015 at 15:43
      • Nicoletta De Simone Reply

        I am grateful. Thanks! 🙂 <3

        November 8, 2015 at 20:01
  • Kay Reply

    Hmm. I enjoyed the article but I do feel we are all inherently good. I do believe we are responsible for our choices but upbringing/society etc do shape us. I guess shadow is the un-shaping so that we make different choices if we are not feeling fulfilled. Do believe meditation, diet, exercise, and nature, have a profound affect on life. Helps one live in the moment you see. Helps to take out the garbage of the chattering mind.

    November 9, 2015 at 06:49
  • David Reply

    Brilliant. Needed this read as I get deeper in to my shadow work.
    Thanks Anja.

    November 10, 2015 at 00:58
  • JRW Reply

    Brilliant. So glad that this view is being aired more and more. Have been most unpopular for expressing it in the past.

    July 3, 2016 at 22:02
  • .:, Reply

    I believe that daemons from His dark materials are closer to Anima/Animus, as their nature wasn’t rejected hidden contrarian similar to those people and things in external world, that annoy you. They were on display, forecasting inner nature of the human, in cooperation with the human, source of affection and support, even if sometimes arguing and of opposite sex and that part about fixing their form as children become mature individuals and how one is forbidden to touch someone else’s daemon, but really, it can be incredibly intimate gift if done with consent and carefully… While the series is about maturing and individualization and conscioussness (as oppossed to antagonists, who want to destroy sin by destroying connection to Dust and keep people in herdlike obedience and as oppossed to Void, that devours Dust and makes its victims mindless empty shells), there is more of emerging sexuality and toppling of unjust authority, than confrontation of one’s darker self.

    April 14, 2019 at 20:31

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