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Introduction to the ‘Shadow’ Concept


If man has studied and wandered about the stars and the universe, he also found himself examining and wandering about the complexities of his own dichotomous nature. One would not have to investigate beyond the surface of historical records to find reference drawn and scribed across stone and papyrus, alike contained in symbols, and writing man’s obsession with understanding the two-sided nature of himself. Sometimes this nature has been conceptualized, classified, and referenced as the ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ self, the ‘divine’ and the ‘evil’ or the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ sides; representing a constant struggle in the seat of man’s nature and therefore the shades of his consciousness. Proof of this constant consternation can be found elaborated throughout the edicts of religious dogma, the ever-evolving concepts underpinning psychotherapeutic practices, as well metaphorically characterized in literature and art, and eventually plotted in media scripts. What is commonly depicted in the arts as the way protagonist vs the antagonist, the hero vs. the villain is but the expression of the struggle man notes continuously raging within himself between and the good vs. the evil in man. That which Carl Jung has appropriated the concept the ‘shadow.’ [1][2][3]


According to philosophical critiques, that which seems to thrust and entangle the human being, of today, into an autonomous and perpetual conflict with the duplicity of their own nature can be traced back to the Age of Enlightenment, a historical movement that capitulated a narrow conceptualisation of reason, a depiction of reasoning that perpetuates a deficient depiction of how humans “access” the deepest truths about their precepts and concepts of their personal and societal-collective consciousness on existence. Carl Jung is credited with providing a bridge for humans to “access” such truths; thereby freeing man, after long arduous and painful inner reflections, from the repressed recesses of his hidden consciousness. But, according to Jung, such a feat would not be without an intense almost violent confrontation with what Jung labeled the dark side of the self “the shadow”. [9] In examining this shadow, the subconscious part of man’s consciousness, the part that he is unaware of, besides his ego, a reservoir of unconscious memories and emotions, Carl Jung would shift the narrative from Freud’s theory on consciousness. According to Jung’s conceptualisation of the shadow, this unconscious aspect of the personality the conscious ego does not identify the shadow therefore is often referenced as "dark side" of man. [1]This understanding of man’s inner world is of specific concern and study of all in the field of human psychology. The work of Jung is important to the field of psychotherapy for the fact that the function of therapy is to guide the individual to a fully conscious awareness of both the side they preference as well as the hidden and often contested and slightly reprehensible hidden side of ‘self.’ [3][4][5][5][6][7][8][9]

Impact of the Shadow on Personality and Behaviour.


Therapist and all neuroscientist have recently shifted the focus the focus of the common behaviour therapy to one that sets as primary goal, the rewiring of the brain to influence change in behaviour. This brain-based therapy builds on the foundation set by Jung, who found incredible works and study on the unconscious content’s influence on the perception and shaping of one’s life. It has been found that because one tends to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of one's personality, the shadow is largely perceived and function as a negative influence on the personality, behaviour, and life of an individual. There are, however, positive aspects which may also remain hidden in one's shadow, often in people with low self-esteem, anxieties, and false beliefs).


In order to potential a purposed and fulfilled life, an individual must accept their dark side, according to Jung and other psychotherapist. For healthy relationships one would have to be able to deal with others' dark sides, therefore again, one must also know one’s own dark side.


The common view of the shadow propagated by Jung is comparatively contrary to the work on conscious repression developed by Sigmund Freud, another towering figure in the realm of psychoanalysis in addressing personality conflicts that plague and derail mans integrated awareness of his dichotomous nature. Jung’s work cannot be properly contextualised or appreciated without briefly acknowledging his teacher at one phase of his development, Sigmund Freud. Freud explored the human mind (the screening of conscious repression) more intensively than any psychoanalyst before him. And upon close examination of his works, one would be hard pressed to identify where Freud works on the unconscious ends and Jung’s ground breaking work on the shadow begins. Additionally, this common line of demarcation mentioned by psychoanalysts, according to Jung, is premature, rather Jung purported that his view of the shadow encompasses Freud’s theory on the unconscious part of man. Whether expressed in apparent neurosis or not, “Everyone carries a shadow," Jung wrote, ‘and the less it is evidently expressed in the individual's conscious life, the more hidden and therefore deeper embedded into the conscious it is; which earns it the depiction of the unknown dark side of the personality.


Furthermore, according to Jung, the shadow, is identifiably instinctive and irrational, and prone to psychological projection. These external expressions reflect an internal perception and conviction of personal inferiority that is often couched as moral condemnation of the moral deficiencies of an individual or society. Instead of facing the ideals that one has of oneself the emotional judgement is placed on others. Jung writes that if these projections remain hidden, "The projection-making factor (the Shadow archetype) then has a free hand and can realise its object--if it has one--or bring about some other situation characteristic of its power." [7] Consequently, these projections insulate and harm individuals by acting as a constantly thickening veil of illusion between the ego and the real world. Whereas, it is common knowledge the emotional conflict found in the reservoir of the shadow, Jung found that the shadow potentially contains suppressed creativity. It is the purpose of psychotherapy to guide the conflicted person in realising which.


Various Layers of the Shadow

Jung also suggested there were several layers to the shadow. The surface 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 distinctive 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" [30]. This bottom layer of the shadow is also what Jung referred to as the collective unconscious


Use of Dream analysis to identify shadow


The function of therapy is to guide the individual to a fully conscious awareness of both the side they preference as well as the hidden and often contested and slightly reprehensible hidden side of ‘self.’

The dream realm is another medium by which the shadow aspect of the consciousness pronounces itself. For instance, in the dream realm, the shadow can appear in many forms, and archetypally appears as a person of the same sex as that of the dreamer. The shadow's appearance and role depend on the perceptual experience of the individual, due to the factor that much of the shadow’s substance develops in the individual's mind rather than inherited in the collective unconscious. As a result, the shadow is made up of personal and societal repressions derived from imposed norms and values, accepted on some conscious level by the individual.

Therapists have found that communications with the shadow in dreams can intimately reveal aspects of 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 the many possible roles that the shadow may adopt in attempt to reconnect the personality to all inner hidden emotional content and are not general guides to interpretation. As therapy findings confer, it is a challenge to identify characters in dreams all the contents are blurred and merge into one another, so that a character who seems at first to be a shadow might represent some other complex instead. So, the effort at reconnecting the hidden aspects of the subconscious to the consciousness is indeed an arduous and suggestive life long process as communicated by Jung.


Facing The Shadow

The eventual 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'. The breakdown of the persona is the incident that opens the pathway to access the shadow within. Beneath the layers the person is suffering from a depression that makes life seem meaningless and empty. What is gleamed is that the initial encounter with the Self casts the mind into emotional turmoil of doom and gloom. Jung considered this to be the 'dissolution of the persona' or ego, a necessary experience conscious assimilation of the shadow into the personal conscious. [14] [15] [16]


How do experts determine the shadow from the authentic personality? Research finds that the shadow personifies everything that the subject refuses to acknowledge about himself and continues to evolve into isolation without the awareness of the individual, but expresses itself in uncontrollable emotional conflicts, on the mental and material plane, identifiable in relationship conflicts primarily. [17] [18]


Consequently, any attempt to see one’s shadow, is initially met with a sentiment and judgement of shame followed by a response in conscious flight, including projection of unpleasing qualities onto others in indignation and condemnation. This initial response of denial, flight and projection makes the dissolution of this masked persona allusive. In this case, the attempt of reconciliation by way of dissolving the persona brings with it 'the danger of falling victim to the shadow. [15] [19] [20] [21]


Shadow Integration or Assimilation

According to Jung, the shadow oftentimes preempts control over a person's behaviour. A common example of this preemptive overtake, when the conscious mind experiences shock, confusion, or is paralysed by indecision. 'A man who is possessed by his shadow is always standing in his own light and falling prey to his own traps of avoidance. Often this stage of confronting the shadow is analogous to the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In the characterization of this conscious struggle within man 'it is Jekyll, the conscious personality, who integrates the shadow-Mr. Hyde; as he, representing the consciousness, can. Otherwise the conscious is overwhelmed and becomes the slave of the autonomous shadow. On the other hand, successful integration of the shadow, or the realization of the personal unconscious, marks the first stage of the analytic process. And to the degree to which the shadow is recognized and integrated, determines the successful resolve of personality conflict in the individual. [22 [23]



It has long been known by clinicians that psychological interventions can profoundly alter patients' sets of beliefs, ways of thinking, affective states, and patterns of behaviour. Symptom reduction is one of the main aims of psychotherapy in general, and can be regarded as the benchmark against which the success of behavioural and cognitive therapies is to be measured. Elucidation of the neural correlates of symptom reduction is therefore a primary goal of any investigation into the biological mechanisms of psychotherapy therapeutic modalities— therapy to psychodynamic methods and cognitive-behavioural approaches—seemed to inhabit a world separate from important developments in the broader scientific community—in fields like neurobiology, child development, evolutionary psychology, cognitive science, anthropology, sociology—that might advance the craft of psychotherapy. The orthodox teaching in neurobiology also asserted that certain regions “gave rise” to specific mental functions, like memory, mood, and language. Today it is known that the brain responds to experience throughout the lifespan by changing its function and structure, and that you could look to the connections of regions—and grow those connections—to understand how to move clients from dysfunction to function, even in adulthood. [31]


The evolution yielding the understanding that the brain could be rewired began in the 1990s, “The Decade of the Brain,” as dubbed by President George H. W. Bush. This scientific discovery brought us a new perspective on the brain as self-renewing, with capacities to rewire itself in response to changing circumstances. This went well beyond old assumptions about our innate, hardwired limitations. New findings about neuroplasticity took us beyond anecdotes and metaphors and vague theories into a more measurable science of human nature, incorporating both the biological and the personal. These first steps in a new, science-based view of psychotherapy came with the work on attachment theory by people like John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, and Mary Main. The work of these pioneers in brain-based therapy illustrated how early experiences shape our personalities, but in a finding with vast implications for psychotherapy, revealed the central importance of a coherent narrative in people’s grasp of their own lives. Mary Main showed that adults who could create reflective, coherent, and emotionally rich narratives about their childhoods, their own children were likely to form a good, secure relationship with them, irrespective of what type of attachment they themselves had had when growing up. It wasn’t what had happened to them as children, but how they’d come to make sense of what had happened to them that predicted their emotional availability as adults and the kind of parents they’d be. [34]

An equally important discovery with powerful implications for psychotherapy is the discovery the role of the horn-shaped hippocampus and how it creates the difference between implicit and explicit memory. Implicit memory is a form of emotional, sensory, or behavioural memory that doesn’t include recalled facts or place inner experience on a timeline from the past. It is now known that trauma can flood the amygdala to create intense implicit memories but shut off the hippocampus so that the sensations of life-threatening events are impeded from becoming explicit memories. This finding explains why people with PTSD experience their memories in the here and now, without having the sensation of remembering them. Bombarded and overwhelmed by the retrieval of powerful sensations drawn from pure implicit memory but devoid of a sense of something coming from the past. This process makes PTSD survivors vulnerable to flashbacks and dissociation. What is most revealing about this finding is that it affirms the impact that a past memory from present life can enable clients to move forward into the future without the fear that the past will continue to haunt them. The key is the neural integration between differentiated areas of the brain, allowing the past event to become no more and no less than an aspect of an autobiographical story that makes sense of life. [31] [34]

So, with these discoveries we have learned that the brain responds to experience throughout the lifespan by changing its function and structure, and that you could look to the connections of regions and grow those connections to understand how to move clients from dysfunction to function, even in adulthood. Scientists from a range of metaphysical disciplines, along with others in clinical fields began to explore the relationship between the mind and the brain. This collaboration among experts spurred interest in mindfulness is now burgeoning into what is called brain-based therapy. This evolving therapy, offer new evidence, now measurable through advances in technology, promises that with awareness we can change our brain. Mindfulness, its learned, promotes the integrative function of the various regions of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex. It allows brain circuits to fire together that perhaps have never fired in this coordinated way before, giving people a sensation of inner awareness that they may never have had. It can open the pathway to neural integration, self-regulation, in other words the assimilation of the shadow into the personal consciousness, as goaled by Jung’s work on the Shadow. [31]


The Take Away

To help rewire unintegrated neural connections, to reintegrate (or sometimes integrate for the first time) different areas and functions of the brain—implicit and explicit memory, right and left hemisphere, neocortex with limbic system and brain stem. We now know that where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows. We’re finally equipped to embrace the wide array of sciences to see the myriad ways therapy can focus attention to stimulate the coordination and balance of neural firing that leads to the growth of neural integration and optimal health. As mental health practitioners become more knowledgeable of critical importance of integration in human functioning and find ways to harness the power of psychotherapy to create a kinder, more compassionate, and integrated world, we must brace ourselves with open minds to the renewal and discarding concepts that keep the fields of neuroscience and psychotherapy, in theory and practice as more about the brain is revealed under meticulous examination.






  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.1 2

  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. 170-183

  14. J. Jacobi, The Psychology of C. G. Jung (London 1946) p. 102

  15. Peter Humans, Jung in Context (London 1979) p. 102

  16. C. G. Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis (London 1963) p. 334

  17. C. G. Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (London 1953) p. 277

  18. C. G. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (London 1996) pp. 270-284 .

  19. C. G. Jung, "Psychology of the Transference Collected Works 16 (London 1954) p. 219

  20. C. G. Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious (London 1944).

  21. Robert Bly/Marion Woodman, The Maiden King (Dorset 1999) pp. 160- 179

  22. C. G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation (London 1956) p. 357 and p. 375

  23. Jung, "Psychology" pp. 260, 266, and 269

  24. C. G. Jung, Aion (London 1959) p. 22

  25. David L. Hart, "The classical Jungian school" in Polly Young-Eisendrath and Terence Dawson, The Cambridge Companion to Jung (Cambridge 1977) p. 92

  26. 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

  27. Abrams, Jeremiah. The Shadow in America. Nataraj. 1995

  28. Arena, Leonardo Vittorio, The Shadows of the Masters. ebook, 2013.

  29. Bly, Robert. "A little book on the human shadow". Edited by William Booth. Harper and Row, San Francisco, 1988, ISBN 0-06-254847-6

  30. Campbell, Joseph, ed. The Portable Jung, Translated by R.F.C. Hull, New York: Penguin Books, 1971.

  31. Cloninger CR. Feeling good: the science of well-being. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2004.

  32. Stein,Phyllis, Kendall. Joshua. “Psychological Trauma and the Developing Brain: Neurologically Based Interventions for Troubled Children.” Binghamton (NY): Haworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press; 2003. 270 p. ISBN: 0789017873

  33. 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

  34. Presidential Proclamation 6158. [Filed with the Office of the Federal Register, 12:11 p.m., July 18, 1990]


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