The Jungian Concept of The Shadow

In this article I will outline some of the Jungian concepts of the Shadow, which has an important role linked closely with the Anima and Animus, the importance of which will be understood by those who have undertaken Trance Exercise 5.

As a side note, it is interesting to note that Jung’s concepts of the Shadow (along with the persona, superman and the wise old man) were heavily influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche, the prominent German philosopher. Jung used Nietzsche’s descriptions as specific archetypal images. It is also worthy of note that Nietzsche had some deeply esoteric aspects in his philosophy, based around the concept of self-overcoming, whereby man can overcome his limitations to become the higher man, on the road to becoming the superman. Jung recognised Nietzsche’s deep understanding of, and willingness, to confront the dark shadows and irrational forces, which lay beneath our ‘civilised’ humanity.

The three main archetypes, which have a major influence over the individual are the Shadow, the Anima and the Animus. The Shadow Jung notes is always the same gender as the individual. To become conscious of the Shadow takes considerable moral effort, recognising the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. Jung contended that this act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.

The Shadow is considered to be a collection of inferiorities, undeveloped, and regressive aspects of the personality. They are primarily of an emotional nature and have a kind of autonomy, displaying an obsessive or more accurately a possessive quality. Jung describes emotion as an activity that happens to the individual rather than an activity of the individual, further reinforcing the idea of the autonomy of certain aspects of the psyche such as the Shadow.

The actions of the Shadow usually happen where adaptation is weakest, and at the same time reveal the reason for its weakness – that is a degree of inferiority and the existence of a lower level of personality. It is at this lower level, with its uncontrolled or scarcely controlled emotions that one behaves more or less like a primitive who is more or less a ‘victim’ of these emotions and is practically incapable of moral judgement.

Although with persistent effort the Shadow (to some extent) can be integrated with the conscious personality there are certain features which offer a great deal of resistance to control and prove almost impossible to influence. These aspects are generally associated with projections, which are not recognised as such, and their recognition is an achievement beyond the ordinary.

Projection is defined as “the situation in which one unconsciously invests another person (or object) with notions or characteristics of one’s own: e.g. a man, fascinated by a woman because she corresponds to his anima, falls in love with her. Feelings, images, and thoughts can be projected onto others. One also projects negative feelings: e.g. a woman has a grudge against a friend, so she imagines that her friend is angry with her.”

If an individual shows no inclination to recognise his projections, then the projection-making factor has a free hand and can realise its object, or bring about a situation characteristic of its power. Again is should be noted that it is not the conscious mind, but the unconscious which does the projecting. The projections are not made, they are encountered. The effect of a projection is to isolate a person from their environment as instead of a real relation to it there is only an illusory one. Projections change the world into a replica of one’s own unknown face – the Shadow – and lead to an auto-erotic or autistic condition in which one dreams a world whose reality remains forever unattainable. The resulting feeling of sterility are in turn explain by projection as the malevolence of the environment, and by means of this viscous circle the isolation is intensified.

At a certain point, projections are no longer the realm of the Shadow, but the contra-sexual side of the unconscious, that is the Anima in a man, or Animus in a woman.

The Shadow represents first and foremost the personal unconscious, and its content can therefore be made conscious without too much difficulty. While the Shadow can be seen through and recognised fairly easily, the Anima and Animus are much further away from consciousness and in normal circumstances are seldom if ever realised. As far as the nature of the Shadow is personal, it can be seen through, but in its greater archetypal aspect on encounters the same difficulties as with the Anima and Animus. Jung wrote, “it is a quite within the bounds of possibility for a man to recognise the relative evil of his own nature, but it is a rare and shattering experience for him to gaze into the face of absolute evil.”

In an supra-personal context, the mankind as a whole is also heavily influenced by unconscious powers. With the relative division of the East (e.g. Russia) and West (America) a collective projection can be seen. While the Western prides itself in its civilised behaviour and keeps its vices tucked away and hidden behind international “good manners” and diplomacy, the East (communism) in general has shamelessly and methodically thrown back in the face of the West. It is the face of its own Shadow which grins back at Western man from the other side of the “Iron Curtain.”

Further reading:

Man and his Symbols by Carl Jung
The Portable Jung edited by Joseph Campbell
The Cambridge Companion to Jung edited by Polly Young-Eisendrath and Terence Dawson
The Invisible Partners by John Sanford


* Trance Exercise 5 is entitled “The Garden of the Philosophers – Wherein the Ruach and Nephesch Are Examined” and follows on from the four trance exercises given in Probatur Temporis.

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