Seeing the Shadow(s)

Me and Dawn were discussing Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow. I should hurry to say that this is not a regular topic between us. As a general rule, I’m very quiet about psychological theory at home. I don’t want to threaten my home with my scattered ramblings, especially when it comes to Jung, someone who I’m slowly learning from, whose analytical psychology is in the deep as far as I’m concerned. Plus, it’s not exactly fun to see.

Nonetheless, the topic came up. Dawn asked me about something from my day and I told her a story. The story–and I am modifying a bit–was about a person that I met that day. Now, I’ve met this person before. That day the person came to me in the form of a woman. So I’ll say that I met this woman, and every time she has shown up in the past, I react. She usually comes as a prideful person, as a person who is really good at being self-congratulatory, and to some degree, dismissive of others. When I see her coming, I sense my own nerves shuffling.

Me and Dawn were talking about this and I said that I don’t like this person. I never have. When I first met her in my first ministry role and when I’ve seen her a few times every year, coming and going into my life. As I get along though, I’m learning that this person has something to teach me, something to show me. I’ve said this to friends as well. That person is going to keep finding me–in the church, in some class, in a group I’m supervising, or in a relationship I’m in–because she has something to show me. Jung suggests that she has something to show me about me.

Jung would say that this person is really offering me a view into my unconscious. Now, without giving an adequate class in Jung (something I’m not qualified to do anyhow), the unconscious in Jungian theory is a barely discernible reservoir of materials that aren’t in your immediate consciousness. You aren’t aware of the unconscious (the collective unconscious), but it’s there. It’s instructing and moving you in ways that you don’t realize because it is, by definition, out of your awareness. Its role is to balance what’s happening in your awareness.

The unconscious comes to you and usually in unbidden ways: dreams and images and things you say that you didn’t know you’re thinking until you say them. These are the bridges over which the unconscious travels to get to us. Another bridge is through people, particularly the people who grate us, provoke us in ways we don’t usually move, take us out of character, if you will. Those folks are carrying some message about us to us. The more we meet them, the more we meet (something about) ourselves.

The self-reflective piece is the endeavor to listen well, to attend to them and to the self. You pay attention and you learn more. You keep meeting that person, that shadow side of the self, and you’ll find out something that’s worth knowing. Jung says that what we meet is not only about us. The unconscious is the property of all time and all creation, if you will. What comes from the unconscious comes from earlier generations of humanity.

Jung wouldn’t say that they come from God, but having been the son of a preacher, he probably would approximate such things in his medical way. He was a doctor who was chiefly influenced by the Spirit, albeit a psychological interpretation of the Spirit as a subjective experience in itself if I get him. That said, Jung thought that our gifts from the unconscious weren’t only for personal consumption but common good.

That means that our learning and your self-reflection aren’t only for you. It benefits me and us and others. So your seeing the shadow and being curious about it; my seeing myself and being interested in what’s really here; these are ways that we can ultimately be good to and for each other. The more we know about ourselves, the better and more whole we can be in relationship.

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