The Shadow Self


A dim premonition tells us that we cannot be whole without this negative side, that we have a body which, like all bodies, casts a shadow, and that if we deny this body we cease to be three-dimensional and become flat and without substance. Yet this body is a beast with a beast’s soul, an organism that gives unquestioning obedience to instinct. To unite oneself with this shadow is to say yes to instinct, to that formidable dynamism lurking in the background. From this the ascetic morality of Christianity wishes to free us, but at the risk of disorganizing man’s animal nature at the deepest level. [Jung, On the psychology of the unconscious]

Lately I’ve run into a cluster of references to Jung’s idea of the ‘shadow’ self. This is the set of unconscious urges which are formed in reaction to the overt, conscious personality. Just as the shape of an object determines the shape of its shadow, so our shadow self is the dark opposite of whatever values we hold in everyday life.

To me, the concept has an intuitive resonance. I’m not convinced it is true, but it is a useful tool for introspection.

I took a dive into Jung’s writing to find more about this, and ended up pleasantly lost. I can see why Jung, even more than Freud, appealed to a generation of artists and writers. He offers a world where stories matter. Literature, art, religion, culture – they are all routes to the same essence, and understanding one will cast light on the rest

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