Shadow (psychology)

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In Jungian psychology, the shadow or "shadow aspect" may refer to (1) an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself. Because one tends to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of one's personality, the shadow is largely negative, or (2) the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious. There are, however, positive aspects which may also remain hidden in one's shadow (especially in people with low self-esteem).[1] Contrary to a Freudian definition of shadow, therefore, the Jungian shadow can include everything outside the light of consciousness, and may be positive or negative. "Everyone carries a shadow," Jung wrote, "and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is."[2] It may be (in part) one's link to more primitive animal instincts,[3] which are superseded during early childhood by the conscious mind.

Carl Jung stated the shadow to be the unknown dark side of the personality. [4][5] According to Jung, the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognised as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else. Jung writes that if these projections remain hidden, "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." [6] These projections insulate and harm individuals by acting as a constantly thickening veil of illusion between the ego and the real world.

From one perspective, 'the roughly equivalent to the whole of the Freudian unconscious';[7] and Jung himself asserted that 'the result of the Freudian method of elucidation is a minute elaboration of man's shadow-side unexampled in any previous age'.[8]

Jung also believed that "in spite of its function as a reservoir for human darkness—or perhaps because of this—the shadow is the seat of creativity.";[9] so that for some, it may be, 'the dark side of his being, his sinister shadow...represents the true spirit of life as against the arid scholar.'[10]


The shadow may appear in dreams and visions in various forms, and typically 'appears as a person of the same sex as that of the dreamer'.[11] The shadow's appearance and role depend greatly on the living experience of the individual, because much of the shadow develops in the individual's mind rather than simply being inherited in the collective unconscious. Nevertheless some Jungians maintain that 'The shadow contains, besides the personal shadow, the shadow of society ... fed by the neglected and repressed collective values'.[12]

Interactions with the shadow in dreams may shed light on one's state of mind. A conversation with the shadow may indicate that one is concerned with conflicting desires or intentions. Identification with a despised figure may mean that one has an unacknowledged difference from the character; a difference which could point to a rejection of the illuminating qualities of ego-consciousness. These examples refer to just two of many possible roles that the shadow may adopt, and are not general guides to interpretation. Also, it can be difficult to identify characters in dreams — "all the contents are blurred and merge into one another ... 'contamination' of unconscious contents"[13] — so that a character who seems at first to be a shadow might represent some other complex instead.

Jung also made the suggestion of there being more than one layer making up the shadow. The top layers contain the meaningful flow and manifestations of direct personal experiences. These are made unconscious in the individual by such things as the change of attention from one thing to another, simple forgetfulness, or a repression. Underneath these idiosyncratic layers, however, are the archetypes which form the psychic contents of all human experiences. Jung described this deeper layer as "a psychic activity which goes on independently of the conscious mind and is not dependent even on the upper layers of the unconscious—untouched, and perhaps untouchable—by personal experience" (Campbell, 1971). This bottom layer of the shadow is also what Jung referred to as the collective unconscious.

Encounter with the shadow

The encounter with the shadow plays a central part in the process of individuation. Jung considered that 'the course of individuation...exhibits a certain formal regularity. Its signposts and milestones are various archetypal symbols' marking its stages; and of these 'the first stage leads to the experience of the SHADOW'.[14] If 'the breakdown of the persona constitutes the typical Jungian moment both in therapy and in development',[15] it is this which opens the road to the shadow within, coming about when 'Beneath the surface a person is suffering from a deadly boredom that makes everything seem meaningless and empty ... as if the initial encounter with the Self casts a dark shadow ahead of time'.[16] Jung considered as a perennial danger in life that 'the more consciousness gains in clarity, the more monarchic becomes its content...the king constantly needs the renewal that begins with a descent into his own darkness'[17] — his shadow - which the 'dissolution of the persona'[18] sets in motion.

"The shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself" and represents "a tight passage, a narrow door, whose painful constriction no one is spared who goes down to the deep well".[19] If and when 'an individual makes an attempt to see his shadow, he becomes aware of (and often ashamed of) those qualities and impulses he denies in himself but can plainly see in others — such things as egotism, mental laziness, and sloppiness; unreal fantasies, schemes, and plots; carelessness and cowardice; inordinate love of money and possessions — ...[a] painful and lengthy work of self-education".[20]

The dissolution of the persona and the launch of the individuation process also brings with it 'the danger of falling victim to the shadow ... the black shadow which everybody carries with him, the inferior and therefore hidden aspect of the personality'[21] — of a merger with the shadow.

Merger with the shadow

According to Jung, the shadow sometimes overwhelms a person's actions; for example, when the conscious mind is shocked, confused, or paralyzed by indecision. 'A man who is possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light and falling into his own traps ... living below his own level':[22] hence, in terms of the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, 'it must be Jekyll, the conscious personality, who integrates the shadow ... and not vice versa. Otherwise the conscious becomes the slave of the autonomous shadow'.[23]

Individuation inevitably raises that very possibility. As the process continues, and 'the libido leaves the bright upper world ... sinks back into its own depths...below, in the shadows of the unconscious',[24] so too what comes to the forefront is 'what was hidden under the mask of conventional adaptation: the shadow', with the result that 'ego and shadow are no longer divided but are brought together in an — admittedly precarious — unity'.[25]

The impact of such 'confrontation with the shadow produces at first a dead balance, a standstill that hampers moral decisions and makes convictions ineffective...tenebrositas, chaos, melancholia'.[26] Consequently (as Jung knew from personal experience) 'in this time of descent — one, three, seven years, more or less — genuine courage and strength are required',[27] with no certainty of emergence. Nevertheless Jung remained of the opinion that while 'no one should deny the danger of the descent ... every descent is followed by an ascent ...enantiodromia';[28] and assimilation of — rather than possession by — the shadow becomes at last a real possibility.

Assimilation of the shadow

Enantiodromia launches a different perspective. We begin to travel [up] through the healing spirals...straight up'.[29] Here the struggle is to retain awareness of the shadow, but not identification with it. 'Non-identification demands considerable moral effort...prevents a descent into that darkness'; but though 'the conscious mind is liable to be submerged at any moment in the unconscious... understanding acts like a life-saver. It integrates the unconscious'[30] - reincorporates the shadow into the personality, producing a stronger, wider consciousness than before. 'Assimilation of the shadow gives a man body, so to speak',[31] and provides thereby a launching-pad for further individuation. 'The integration of the shadow, or the realisation of the personal unconscious, marks the first stage of the analytic process...without it a recognition of anima and animus is impossible'.[32] Conversely 'to the degree to which the shadow is recognised and integrated, the problem of the anima, i.e., of relationship, is constellated',[33] and becomes the centre of the individuation quest.

Nevertheless Jungians warn that 'acknowledgement of the shadow must be a continuous process throughout one's life';[34] and even after the focus of individuation has moved on to the animus/anima, 'the later stages of shadow integration' will continue to take place - the grim 'process of washing one's dirty linen in private',[35] accepting one's shadow.


  1. Young-Eisendrath, P. and Dawson, T. (1997). The Cambridge Companion to Jung., Cambridge University Press, p. 319
  2. Jung, C.G. (1938). "Psychology and Religion." In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131
  3. Jung, C.G. (1952). "Answer to Job." In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.12
  4. S. A. Diamond - article published April 20 2012 by Psychology Today [Retrieved 2015-11-01]
  5. Dr G. Wyn Roberts, Dr A. Machon - Appreciative Healthcare Practice: A guide to compassionate, person-centred care (c.f. p.71) published by M&K Update Ltd, 8 Jul 2015 ISBN 1907830936 [Retrieved 2015-11-01]
  6. Jung, C.G. (1951). "Phenomenology of the Self" In The Portable Jung. P.147
  7. Anthony Stevens, On Jung (London 1990) p. 43
  8. C. G. Jung, The Practice of Psychotherapy (London 1993) p. 63
  9. Kaufman, C. Three-Dimensional Villains: Finding Your Character's Shadow [1]
  10. C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (London 1983) p. 262
  11. M-L von Franz, "The Process of Individuation" in C. G. Jung, Man and his Symbols (London 1978) p. 175
  12. Michael Fordham, Jungian Psychotherapy (Avon 1978) p. 5
  13. von Franz, "Process" p. 183
  14. J. Jacobi, The Psychology of C. G. Jung (London 1946) p. 102
  15. Peter Homans, Jung in Context (London 1979) p. 102
  16. von Franz, "Process" p. 170
  17. C. G. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis (London 1963) p. 334
  18. C. G. Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (London 1953) p. 277
  19. C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (London 1996) p. 284 and p. 21
  20. von Franz, "Process" p. 174
  21. C. G. Jung, "Psychology of the Transference Collected Works 16 (London 1954) p. 219
  22. Jung, Archetypes p. 123
  23. Stevens, Jung p. 50
  24. C. G. Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious (London 1944) p. 181-2
  25. Jung "Psychology" p. 238-9
  26. Jung, Mysterium p. 497
  27. Robert Bly/Marion Woodman, The Maiden King (Dorset 1999) p. 179
  28. C. G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation (London 1956) p. 357 and p. 375
  29. Bly/Woodman, Maiden p. 160-1
  30. Jung, "Psychology" pp. 260, 266 and 269
  31. Jung, Practice p. 239
  32. C. G. Jung, Aion (London 1959) p. 22
  33. Jung, Archetypes p. 270n
  34. David L. Hart, "The classical Jungian school" in Polly Young-Eisendrath and Terence Dawson, The Cambridge Companion to Jung (Cambridge 1977) p. 92
  35. Stevens, On Jung p. 235

Further reading

  • Abrams, Jeremiah, and Connie Zweig. Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature. Tarcher, 1991, ISBN 0-87477-618-X
  • Abrams, Jeremiah. The Shadow in America. Nataraj. 1995
  • Arena, Leonardo Vittorio, The Shadows of the Masters. ebook, 2013.
  • Bly, Robert. "A little book on the human shadow". Edited by William Booth. Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1988, ISBN 0-06-254847-6
  • Campbell, Joseph, ed. The Portable Jung, Translated by R.F.C. Hull, New York: Penguin Books, 1971.
  • Johnson, Robert A., Owning Your Own Shadow : Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche, 128 pages, Harper San Francisco, 1993, ISBN 0-06-250754-0
  • Johnson, Robert A., Inner Work : Using Dreams and Creative Imagination for Personal Growth and Integration, 241 pages, Harper San Francisco, 1989, ISBN 0-06-250431-2
  • Neumann, Erich. Depth Psychology and a New Ethic Shambhala; Reprint edition (1990). ISBN 0-87773-571-9.

External links