What Is The Shadow? Carl Jung, The Shadow & Depth Psychology

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The Shadow Carl Jung

Carl Jung And The Shadow

To understand Carl Jung’s Shadow theory all of the following points must be understood together.

  1. What Comprises The Shadow
  2. Projection Of The Shadow
  3. How To Integrate The Shadow

Each person must contend with both the good and evil which lies within. Much like the competing power between light and dark and yin or yang, the shadow can wield influence over our personality and grip our behaviour.

By not acknowledging the destructive side of your being you are setting yourself up for defeat. Such people who fail to acknowledge their negative potential do their best to stay ignorant of their faults and weakness. In doing so, these elements of the psyche (the bad impulses, unsocial behaviours, etc) are relegated to the deep unconscious to ultimately become fodder for the shadow.

“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.”

Carl Jung

The Shadow Impulse

These elements of the psyche are those in the depths of the unconscious and manifest themselves through projections. Projections are the outward manifestations of the shadow on our behaviour. Dirty moods, maniacal impulses, hurtful will, etc. They are the remnants of previously shunned behaviour that has remained locked away absent of the light of day.

Much like the universality of good versus evil, there is a battle waged within the self between the well-learned behaviours of our socialisation and the depraved, unsocial behaviours comprising the shadow.

The depths of your shadow are balanced by the height or your goodness. Each person must contend for both the good and evil which lies within.

“The sad truth is that real life consists of a complex of inexorable opposites – day and night, birth and death, happiness and misery, good and evil. We are not even sure that one will prevail over the other, that good will overcome evil, or joy defeat pain. life is a battleground. It always has been, and always will be”

Carl Jung
Shadow work carl jung

What Comprises The Shadow? Carl Jung

The shadow is comprised of all that is frowned upon by family, peers, friends as well as all that which is deemed ‘bad’ by broader society.

A part of the ongoing socialisation process we take part in starting early in life is the dampening and rejection of certain impulses and behaviours that misalign societal expectations.

“All those qualities, capacities and tendencies which do not harmonize with the collective values – everything that shuns the light of public opinion, in fact – now come together to form the shadow, that dark region of the personality which is unknown and unrecognized by the ego”

Carl Jung

Misplaced aggression, offensive actions, foul moods, evil and unkind impulses plus most behaviour that is deemed unsocial come together to make up the density of the shadow. These behaviours are rejected in the process of socialisation for obvious reasons because their absence is a necessary part of a functioning world. Society only functions when there is a mutual understanding of expected behaviour. To become ‘unsocialised’ is to have been done a disservice by your folks for you are severely handicapped to thrive within society.

The shadow threatens to compromise our own fragile self-image. To understand the qualities and intentions of the shadow one must notice and pay close attention to moods, fantasies and impulses.

“He never suspects that his own hidden and apparently harmless shadow has qualities whose dangerousness exceeds his wildest dreams”

Carl Jung

Everything that comprises your shadow is all behaviour and impulses that have been suppressed into the unconscious through the process of socialisation.

“When one tries desperately to be good and wonderful and perfect, then all the more the shadow develops a definite will to be black and evil and destructive. People cannot see that; they are always striving to be marvellous, and then they discover that terrible destructive things happen which they cannot understand, and they either deny that such facts have anything to do with them, or if they admit them, they take them for natural afflictions, or they try to minimise them and to shift responsibility elsewhere. The fact is that if one tries beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the shadow descends into hell and becomes the devil”

Carl Jung

More On What Comprises The Shadow

The complexity of each individual shadow differs given the treatment or mistreatment of one’s socialisation.

An aggressive father who punishes aggression with aggression only bolsters the aggressive nature of your shadow projections. Whereas a father who manages to punish misplaced aggression with an understandable lesson makes for a less viscous shadow. This phenomenon can be extrapolated outwards and elsewhere upon additional experience as well. Both treatments succeed in the goal of socialisation, however, only one treatment allows a clearer route to individuation. For the more measured father fosters a less severe and more easily integrated shadow within his son.

Most of us are horrified by the notion of questioning or breaking the social code into which we were raised. The purpose of integrating the shadow is to identify where we have been socialised so we can then overcome the behaviour which was suppressed. Integrating the shadow does not mean to ‘break’ our socialisation, no, rather the purpose for integrating the shadow is to become oneself, free from the projections of a shadow manifest in socialisation.

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell”

Carl Jung

Socialisation is a necessary step backwards in order to allow maturation into the world. However, once an individual discovers their own morality and position within the world they can begin to reverse the damages of socialisation and dig up the unconscious depths of the shadow.

Carl Jung and The Shadow

Projection Of The Shadow | Carl Jung

The Shadow holds influence over our personality and affects our behaviour through projection. Jung thought about projection along similar lines to Freud, who popularised the term in the mid-1890s. Freud believed projection to be a defence mechanism used to avoid the anxiety that is provoked when one is forced to face up to their faults, weaknesses, and destructive tendencies

Projection is to unconsciously take an unwanted element of your personality and then attribute it to someone else. It is a denial of this trait of oneself then assigned to another.

“Projection is one of the commonest psychic phenomena… everything that is unconscious in ourselves we discover in our neighbour, and we treat him accordingly”

Carl Jung

To begin facing your shadow is to withdraw your projections from the internal world only to then integrate this element of our personality into conscious awareness. Rather than allowing projections to go unchecked, we must acknowledge their occurrences and then how we respond determines our ability to integrate the shadow.

This is no spring cleaning.

To acknowledge your projections is hard. It requires courage and honesty to reveal terrible parts of yourself. But while difficult, confronting your shadow is one of the most necessary battles you will ever wage because failure to face and integrate one’s shadow allows these negative elements of the personality freedom to grow and manifest at scale. And an unchecked shadow, a shadow by through ignorance, has the greatest negative potential of all.

carl jung shadow theory

Group Projection

A very interesting tangent Jung takes with his writings on projection is how these phenomena can manifest at the group level.

Jung offers an explanation that links susceptibility to authoritarian movements and those who have failed to face up to their shadow. As the ‘other’ is repeatedly painted with a myriad of villainous traits they are presented as group-wide scapegoats for individuals to project onto.

Since projection onto a friend or loved one will often lead to damage to the relationship Jung furthers his argument for the susceptibility of group projection by emphasising this point. Given that our interactions with the ‘other’ are typically limited, it is attractive to project something you despise without threatening personal damage.

Jung also goes on to say that susceptibility for projection at the group level is made even more likely because of the fact that these groups are comprised of many individuals, and many individuals combined are doubtless flawed and therefore potentially justified to resent.

“Not that these others are wholly without blame, for even the worst projection is at least hung on a hook, perhaps a very small one, but still a hook offered by the other person”

Carl Jung

And therefore as group projection phenomena iterate further outwards it is made clear that this can lead to war…

“The greatest danger to civilisation is not in the weapons we have at our disposal but in our ability to understand our own selves”

Carl Jung
carl jung and group projection

How To Integrate The Shadow | Carl Jung

Without the integration of the shadow, individuation is unthinkable and therefore a long process of negotiation is unavoidable.

“The line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Integrating the shadow into one’s consciousness requires brutal objectivity in observation of one’s own impulses and behaviours. Integration of the shadow is hard, almost no one ever truly achieves completion. It requires transparent honesty and courage to reveal the terrible parts of yourself.

“Modern people… are ignorant of what they really are. We have simply forgotten what a human being really is, so we have men like Nietzsche, Freud and Adler who tell us what we are, quite mercilessly. We have to discover our shadow. Otherwise, we are driven into a world war in order to see what beasts we are”

Carl Jung

To begin facing your shadow is to withdraw your projections from the external world and then integrate these elements of our personality into conscious awareness. In other words, to face your shadow is to acknowledge your potential for darkness, and then rather than avoid it because it detests you, bring it into the light of day and take ownership of it.

To integrate the shadow one must undergo a certain Nietzschean metamorphosis. This is most commonly recognised with the (sometimes) metaphor of ‘killing the father’.

“Without the murder of the ‘father’ no development of consciousness and personality is possible”

Eric Neumann

Making this psychological break from your socialisation also frees you from certain group think traps as well. One must learn to understand that one’s potential for evil are just as real as ones potential for good.

If you never come to this understanding then you will be just another fool who thinks they are good because they do no wrong and forever leave the door to individuation closed.

“I have often laughed at the weaklings who thought themselves good because they had no claws”


Recognise your shadow. Wrestle with it. Allow it to become a part of your conscious personality. You are a step closer to individuation.

How much will does your shadow exert over you?

integrating the shadow

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