The educated man tries to repress the inferior man in himself, not realizing that by so doing he forces the latter into revolt. – Carl Jung
According to late psychiatrist, Carl Jung, when we enter the world we are emotionally healthy and whole. Over time, our wholeness surrenders to our desire to be good, to be liked, to be accepted and to be safe. We slowly internalize messages from our environment, including family, friends, institutions, and society at large, that begin to give shape to a new, edited version of our original, whole self. Eventually our wholeness transforms into what we perceive to be “goodness.”
Do you remember feeling “different” early in your life because you were attracted to someone of the same gender, or because you desired to be the other gender? Was your initial reaction to explore and embrace this difference? For most the answer is an emphatic “uh, NO!” Whether the messages are direct or indirect, the outcome is seems the outcome is the same – we are taught that it is not okay to feel the way we feel. The door to our sexual orientation or gender orientation is simply one of many doors we may have shut, locked and walked away from.
This theory, made popular by Debbie Ford, suggests that as we begin to learn from others what is acceptable and not, we slowly close the doors to parts of our self that we believe are wrong, or bad. We hide these parts of our self from the rest of the world, and from our self, denying that we are “that.” We hide in shame, the parts of our self that we believe are “bad” or “wrong” or “unacceptable.” We divide our self into many pieces, hiding from others and eventually from our self, those characteristics that we do not like and find unacceptable. Our original wholeness has become a hostage to our desire for goodness.
Pause for a second and consider what character traits you do not want people to associate with you? These and other characteristics which you consider highly undesirable are the traits of your “Shadow” self. Some refer to our shadow as our “dark side.” This refers to the parts of ourself that we keep hidden, that are not seen, that lurk in the dark parts of who we are. Jung defined our Shadow as “the person we do not want to be.”
What is one adjective you would not want someone to use to describe you? How about “liar,” “cheat,” “angry,” ungrateful,” “selfish,” “emotional,” “defensive,” “pretentious,” or “weak?” These are just a few examples of things you may consider undesirable. Some find it unacceptable to be angry, others reject the idea that they are sensitive. What we choose to disown varies from person to person because of our different life experiences and circumstances.
A child who comes from an embarrassingly messy home may disown her own ability to be messy. As an adult, placing emphasis on order and cleanliness is one of the ways to bury the memories and pain she felt when her friends would make fun of her messy childhood home. This disowned “messiness” creates a cover for itself through excessive cleanliness and order. The embarrassed little girl attempts to compensate for the messiness that has been internalized as a negative thing growing up by creating the polar opposite as an adult.
So, you may be wondering, what’s wrong with that? Of course nothing is wrong with orderliness and cleanliness. The issue is that the reality that one came from a family who was not clean can not ever be erased or eliminated by becoming the opposite. BOTH REALITIES EXIST. The reality that your parents are untidy and messy, AND the reality that you choose to be different. To become what we are from that which we do not want to be gives the dark side, our shadow self, the power to define us. To disown the first, and embrace only the second gives a disproportionate amount of power to the first. For it is that which we are disowning that then determines who we become.
When we reach for wholeness, and strive to incorporate that which we have disowned, with that which we have created for our self we are able to live in peace with both realities. When we can accept our disowned characteristics we no longer have to define ourselves by that which we don’t want to be. We are free, instead, to define ourselves by that which we would like to be. There is room for the old and the new. Neither has to be more powerful than the other – when we accept it all, we are in a position to choose the parts of our self that we would like to express.
“What You Can’t Be With, Won’t Let You Be.” – Debbie Ford’s Dark Side of Light Chasers
A child who was raised in a physically abusive family may disown their right to feel angry because expressing anger would result in physical harm. Unfortunately, what we reject internally often begins to surround us externally. The disowned parts of our internal self do not go away. These traits are simply pushed down, repressed and hidden from the rest of the world. The child who declares he will not be angry is still affected by anger. We all are. Instead he lives in denial of his anger, and may be surprised to find himself surrounded by angry people in his life who have become a mirror for what he has denied for all of these years. Denying anger does not mean we are not angry. Denying anything, does not mean that we are not “that” thing.
In Search of Wholeness
To become whole, Jung says we must uncover, accept and make room for the very things we are most afraid to face. Debbie Ford says, “You must go into the dark in order to bring forth your light.” Wholeness, like a 24 hour day, includes both light and dark. Without one, there can not exist the other. It is darkness that defines light, and light that defines darkness. One defines the other. To pretend that one does not exist renders the other invalid by default. How can I define my goodness if there is nothing inside to which I can compare.
Sometimes we are successful at hiding our undesirable characteristics from our conscious mind and to find these traits requires a lot of work and paying close attention to ourselves. Because the traits that we have repressed and denied begin to appear externally, we have a golden opportunity to learn about our self by paying close attention to our environment and our reactions to people places and things.
We all share the capacity to possess any characteristic that we are capable of seeing in another whether the character trait is positive or negative. Naturally, when the trait seems undesirable, our instinct is to disown it, to say “I am not that!” We may do this by overcompensating with the opposite behaviors, or sometimes we may simply deny, repress, and avoid looking at the possibility that we do possess the disowned traits.
I would rather be whole than good. – Carl Jung
Resisting any aspect of who we are actually gives that character trait more power to affect us.I relate this to a child who is repeating herself over and over to be heard by preoccupied adults who do not want to be distracted. The child begins to get louder and louder. Meanwhile, her mother is working hard to tune her out and responds to her pleas for attention with “ssshhhhh…” or “not now.” Our disowned traits are like the unheard child. In time, the trait that we are determined to silence grows bigger and bigger despite our efforts to resist hearing. Whether we acknowledge to ourselves that a trait exists or not, this characteristic is soon manifesting itself in our lives in ways that are unavoidable.
We must be willing to find out that we “are” what we least want to be. When we become curious and ask ourselves, “how am I like that?” instead of declaring, “I am not like that” we open the door to ourselves. When we do not “own” (which is simply saying, “I am that”) what we are unable to accept about ourselves, everyone and everything around us mirrors this quality back to us. Early in life I disowned the possibility that I was gay. I believed that homosexuality was “wrong” and “bad.” I received messages from our culture that told me being gay is unacceptable. I repressed these feelings, denied their existence for much of my childhood and spent incredible time and energy creating a new reality, a persona, that concealed my thoughts and feelings.
“A man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbour.” – Carl Jung
I had incredibly negative judgments about people whom I learned were gay. I was at times sick to my stomach in their presence. I have since realized that the feelings I internalized about myself were mirrored back to me through the feelings I projectedon to others who represented the part of myself that I despised.
“Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face.” – Carl Jung
One of the greatest gifts we are offered to understand ourselves is found in our judgment of others. When we have a strong negative emotional reaction to another, it is an indication that something within ourselves is being mirrored back to us in the behavior of another. This is called “projection.” When we feel something about another that we are too afraid to see in our self, we are projecting our feelings onto someone else. Much like a projector found in a movie theater, we continually have various stories (tapes) playing inside of us (like the movie reel on a projector) that look for a screen to play out our stories and beliefs. The people, places and things in our own world become our personal movie screen. What we see is a reflection of what’s inside of us.
You spot it, You Got It
We can not identify in another, that which has no connection to our self. To recognize stinginess, we must first know what stinginess looks like. For everything we see in another, there is a story about that within ourselves. The more intense our reaction is to another’s behavior, the more information they have to offer us about our self!
To examine your projections and to learn more about your “shadow” consider the doing the following exercise.
1. For today, notice the qualities and traits in those around you that irritate, annoy or otherwise affect you.
2. List on a piece of paper the characteristics of the person who offends you. Then consider each characteristic you have listed and allow yourself to see where in your life you might be expressing that same quality.
3. Now explore the gifts that you receive from this part of yourself. For example, your need for organization may make you more successful in your work, or your anger may give you strength to set boundaries to protect yourself from being taken advantage of.
4. Lastly, make a list of five benefits you will receive by focusing your attention on yourself instead of others.