Taking Back the Shadow
by Annemarie Paulin-Campbell
We are confronted daily with the realities of hatred and violence. Uber drivers are being burned to death. Palestinians protestors were gunned down in the Gaza strip amid protests against the establishment of a United States Embassy in Jerusalem. Recently there was fatal knife attack in a mosque north of Durban at the midday prayers. Foreign shop owners in Kwazulu-Natal have been threatened with violence if they do not leave their shops. There are countless more examples…..
In all these situations there are multiple and highly complex political, social and economic factors at play that must be addressed in themselves. There are also deep psychological and spiritual dimensions to this human aggression. Carl Jung, one of the greatest psychological theorists, talks about the ‘Shadow’, the unacknowledged or disowned negative qualities within ourselves. The less we know ourselves, the bigger our shadow, and the more likely we are to unconsciously project those very qualities that we deny in ourselves onto other people. We tend to do this more with people we don’t really know or who we perceive to be different to us. In extreme cases of shadow projection we may end up dehumanising, or even demonising the other, in some cases an entire group of people, sometimes with violent consequences.
So what can we do about it? We have to start with ourselves. One of the ways we can come to a deeper self-knowledge is through honest feedback from those we trust. This enables us to own our darkness as well as our light. As we come to see ourselves with greater insight and humility (and find greater healing and integration), we have less need to unconsciously push our negative qualities onto others.
As a society we seem to have very limited capacity for self-reflection. We are afraid to confront within ourselves the darker aspects which are more difficult to acknowledge. We want to hold onto and protect a particular view of ourselves and others.
Our spiritual lives are key to diminishing our shadow. Friendship with God enables us to see ourselves are we truly are. God loves and accepts the good and the bad in each of us. He challenges and provokes in us an ongoing conversion. In a relationship with God, it becomes safe to begin to face and own those aspects of ourselves that need forgiveness, healing, and redemption rather than denying them and attributing them to others who we perceive to be different to us.
There is also the need to engage and build relationships with others. The more people remain as “the other” to me, the more easily I judge them and project my own unconscious negative qualities onto them. The more they become a person, who like me, has fears, hopes, desires, people they love, and concerns for their future, the more possibility opens up for an authentic encounter and dialogue.
Let us consciously become aware of our shadow and then seek inner conversion. Knowing we are loved by God, we can answer the call to engage with the realities of our world. We can actively get involved!