Our shadow side is the multitude of personality qualities, instincts, urges and thoughts we may be offended by and actively ignore, deny or try to cover up. But this secret or unexplored inner landscape can be a source of personal growth and creative expression.
It isn’t a matter of freely acting on our urges or fantasies, of course. There are jails and ethics and other things to consider.
But as actor Kristin Kreuk once said, “Just because I don’t do bad things doesn’t mean I don’t have bad thoughts.”
To find our true potential, we need to know ourselves in depth, including our “bad thoughts.” One of the problems is trying to repress sides of ourselves that we think are unacceptable.
“Everyone carries a shadow,” psychologist Carl Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”
In her article The Shadow Muse — Gifts of Your Dark Side, Jill Badonsky writes, “Oh, the energy we use in this society to suppress what we perceive to be our undesirable traits — our negativity, judgmental nature, and our other secret peculiarities and struggles.”
She explains, “The shadow side of a mortal provides an incredible amount of creative energy. Anger, jealousy, revenge, frustration, sadness, rejection have been conduits for so many triumphant works of writing, art, music and performance.”
The photo is Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Hopkins commented about his character:
“We admire [Lecter] in a secret, perverse way. He represents the unspeakable part of ourselves, the fantasy, desires and dark areas of our lives that are slightly unacceptable to us, but actually healthy, if we only acknowledge them.
“Perhaps, we’d like to be as certain of things and as dare-devil as him.
“But admiring him doesn’t mean we’re deeply disturbed, sick people. It just means that we’re human. We’re all flawed, deeply damaged, imperfect beings. We’re corruptible, shabby, grubby, great, magnificent and all the rest of it.”
There are reverse or so-called negative aspects of many of our positive human qualities.
In her post titled The archetypes: addict, magical child, hedonist, therapist Isabella Mori provides excerpts from Carolyn Myss’ “gallery of archetypes.” Mori thinks that “most of us can recognize ourselves in one or more of these archetypes, or typical ways of being in the world” and thinks Myss “tells us about the positive as well as the shadow (some would call them negative) aspects of these archetypes.”
One of the archetypes is “Child: Magical/Innocent” — and Myss says (in A Gallery of Archetypes), “Baudelaire wrote that ‘genius is childhood recaptured,’ and in that sense the Magical Child is something of a genius too. The Magical Child is gifted with the power of imagination and the belief that everything is possible.
“The shadow energy of the Magical Child manifests as the absence of the possibility of miracles and of the transformation of evil to good. Attitudes of pessimism and depression, particularly when exploring dreams, often emerge from an injured Magical Child whose dreams were ‘once upon a time’ thought foolish by cynical adults.”
She adds, “The shadow may also manifest as a belief that energy and action are not required, allowing one to retreat into fantasy.”
That is another caution about exploring and using our shadow side – powerful imagination can be dangerously seductive, even substituting for reality.
The shadow can also be threatening and frightening.
In my interview with depth psychologist Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D., titled The Psychology of Creativity: redeeming our inner demons, he said, “Creativity requires making use of this existential anxiety. There are two fundamental ways of responding to anxiety: avoidance or confrontation.”
He adds that anxiety can be a signal that unacceptable (daimonic) impulses conflicting with consciousness are “threatening to break through their repression. These impulsions can be profoundly threatening to our sense of identity, our ‘persona’ as Jung called it, or our egos.”
Such “unacceptable” impulses come from the dark inner territory Jung called “the shadow” – and we typically dread looking “in there” or having impulses appear unbidden.
“But if we can stand firm without running,” Diamond says, “tolerating the anxiety these unwanted visitations, these ‘close encounters’ engender, we can begin to give them form and hear what it is they want of us.
“Creativity comes from this refusal to run, this willing encounter with anxiety and what lies beyond it.”
See more quotes, books and other material on The shadow Self (page 1 of 5).