According to psychoanalyst Carl Jung, it is easier to get someone’s skeletons out of the closet than it is to get the “gold out of the shadow.” At first glance this may seem counterintuitive. However in digging deeper into the book “Owning Your Own Shadow,” Robert Johnson gives the analogy of the ego (the persona: the parts of ourselves we choose to show others) as wearing clothing. To unveil our shadow, or the parts we wish to hide, would involve being naked and vulnerable. The shadow we try to mask hides society’s outliers on both ends of the spectrum: the gold and the darkness.
This quote by Marianne Williamson might help to illuminate the reasons and issues behind masking our greatness:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
The Birth of Duality & The Shadow
We play small when we fear our greatness because to accept the vastness that we are means that we must stand out. To fit into society as school-aged children we learned to suppress the yearnings of our soul. In this process, we divided our lives into what we could show and what we needed to keep hidden. Duality was born out of meeting the needs of society. For if we all acted out every whim, society would quickly become non-existent.
The challenge with this superimposed duality is that due to society’s influence “the light” is honored and “the dark” is suppressed within each one of us. The shadows then accumulate and can erupt if not given an outlet.
To refuse the dark side of One’s nature is to store up or accumulate the darkness; this is later expressed as a black mood, psychosomatic illness, or … accidents… War, economic chaos and racial intolerance are the fall out of worshipping the light while refusing the dark.
Counter-balance through Creative Expression
All systems seek balance. It is the conscious counterbalance of our ego that keeps us from erupting on others and from self-destructing. The arts help us to connect to that inner development through acts of quiet creation.
The only alternative to torture is art. ~Bernard Shaw
Meditation, dream analysis, active imagination, and creative expression through: martial arts, dance, and fine arts all help us to connect to our shadows, the parts of us which we so vehemently deny: our inner gold and our shame.
When we fail to take responsibility for our own shadows, we project those aspects onto others. This is true for both our greatness and our darkness. Just as mentioned in Romantic Love’s Faulty Mirror, we can project our Divinity or Greatness onto others just as we project our darkness. Outside of relationship, we often project our greatness onto our heroes, which is another way in which we fail to recognize ourselves. When we push our own greatness onto others, there is then no reason to own them ourselves. In this way, we fail to accept ourselves as whole beings.
The Shadow is more genuine than the Ego
At some point the ego seems to take on a life of its own, believing it is the individual. As such the ego begins to act in its own defense. This defense is often fear-based. To keep us in fear, the Ego presides over the kingdom. How better to remain in control than to have the individual fear One’s greatness?
Synthesis through Compromise
When we hold the shadow in opposition to the ego we can become paralyzed or betray part of ourselves. Johnson suggests that when we feel these opposing forces pull on us that if we can take a moment and sit with both aspects that we can come to a synthesis that may be better than A) the ego or B) the shadow.
Our Greatness is Our Fitness
When we hide the best parts of ourselves in fear of success, everyone loses. It is allowing our greatness to express itself that gives others permission to do the same. So truly, what is holding you back?
Further Reading by Robert A. Johnson
- Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche
- Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth
This is part of the Owning Your Own Shadow Series, based on the book by the same name by Robert Johnson. This series is an investigation into seeing and integrating all aspects within to recover inner peace. Only with loving ourselves can we be the change we wish to see in this world.
TED Talk “The Art of Being Yourself” by Caroline McHugh