The Shadow Self and Jung

The Shadow Self.

It’s real, that’s for sure.

I have this bizarre friendship with someone who I met many years ago — For as long as I’ve known him, he hasn’t worked what I’ve always considered a “real” job — A 9-5, at times soul-crushing cubicle manifestation that we, in the U.S, know as “jobs.”  I’ve been in these cube-dwells (mind you, for unbelievable organizations) for a long, long time – and it just didn’t feel normal. Or healthy.

But my friend was different. He’d work in small stretches, sometimes making things, sometimes helping his family with odd jobs, staying with friends and extended community members – and mainly, living what most people would consider an “alternative” life.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I resented, to a large extent, his freedom.

Then, a conversation I had with another dear friend who put these feelings into a Jungian perspective- My Shadow Self was, well, screaming.

What’s the shadow self? Well, essentially it’s this:

  • “In Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” is a part of the unconscious mind consisting of repressed weaknesses, shortcomings, and instincts. It is one of the three most recognizable archetypes, the others being the anima and animus and the persona. “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”[1] It may be (in part) one’s link to more primitive animal instincts,[2] which are superseded during early childhood by the conscious mind.
  • According to Jung, the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to projection: turning a personal inferiority into a perceived moral deficiency in someone else. Jung writes that if these projections are unrecognized “The projection-making factor (the Shadow archetype) then has a free hand and can realize its object–if it has one–or bring about some other situation characteristic of its power.” [3] These projections insulate and cripple individuals by forming an ever thicker fog of illusion between the ego and the real world.”

The way I interpret this all is simple – my Shadow Self was screaming to get out, to be ‘free,’ to make decisions that are a little different, and to live a potentially atypical life. My resentment towards my friend who I’ve always viewed as ‘free’ was merely a reflection on my real, and deeply held, desires.

There is probably a lot more to say about the Shadow Self — but I’ll say this — I recognize it, in myself – the resentment that has built due to the fact that I made choices I felt I ‘should’ make as opposed to those I wanted to make. I don’t mean to complain — I’m so lucky to have had these choices. But, I felt constrained by them at the same time.

The Shadow Self is certainly not a new concept – but its one that resonates with me deeply. I recognize that not everyone has the agency or resources to make such decisions. But for me, it wasn’t for lack of these things that I’ve spent so long doing that which I thought I should. It’s that I didn’t really believe enough in myself to attempt to do it a bit differently.

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