Updated: Jan 6
Did you ever have to work or study with someone who you just plain couldn't stand? Everything about them provokes feelings within you from mild irritation to severe annoyance, you can not understand how they have even come to be in the same realm as you, & everyday you hope that they & everyone else has come to their senses & this person has 'moved on'; which would leave you feeling justified in your feelings, you will no longer be forced to 'get on', 'negotiate', 'compromise', 'bite your tongue', or in fact explore that something is being 'triggered' within us by this person making us' feel this way, something in our 'shadow self'.
'Something is being 'triggered' within ourselves by this person making us feel this way, something in our 'shadow self'.
What is our 'shadow'?
Carl Gustav Jung (1975-1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded 'Analytical Psychology', his theories, models & work are referred to as 'Jungian Psychology'. According to Jungian psychology, the 'shadow' archetype, one of the four major Jungian Archetypes, (The Persona, The Shadow, The Anima & Animus, & The Self) may refer to an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself, or the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious. In short, the shadow is the unknown side of our personalities. The Jungian shadow can include everything outside the light of consciousness and may be positive or negative. "Everyone carries a shadow," Jung wrote, "and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is". The shadow is an archetype that consists of the sex and life instincts. The shadow exists as part of the unconscious mind and is composed of repressed ideas, weaknesses, desires, instincts, and shortcomings; it forms out of our attempts to adapt to cultural norms and expectations. It is this archetype that contains all of the things that are unacceptable not only to society, but also to one's own personal morals and values. It might include things such as envy, greed, prejudice, hate, and aggression. This archetype is often described as the darker side of the psyche, representing wildness, chaos, and the unknown. Jung believed, although people sometimes deny this element of their own psyche and instead project it on to others. These projections insulate and harm individuals by acting as a constantly thickening veil of illusion between the ego and the real world.
In layman's terms; the shadow is an unconscious part of ourselves in which we have buried what we believe to be the negative aspects of our personalities that society (or ourselves) may not accept, positive aspects may also be buried if we have been conditioned to believe them to be negative aspects; for example a Mother chastises her daughter for being 'too loud', perhaps the child is just outgoing & the Mother is introverted, the Daughter may have internalised being 'loud' as wrong, this may in turn lead her to find a 'loud' person irritating. According to Jung's shadow theory if you’re triggered by another person in a way that’s obsessive and almost irrational, when you hate the same kind of people wherever you go, what you dislike in them is likely something you dislike about yourself. Sometimes what we consider an imperfection in other people pushes our buttons or touches aspects of ourselves that demand our attention, & if your reading this thinking 'no way' it's definitely not me, it's them - that's your shadow kicking in!
Carl Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
So, how can you explore your shadow?
Everyone is your mirror. If you accept this and apply it to all of your relationships, they’ll be positively transformed by this simple knowledge. Begin to explore your shadow with your therapist or by yourself, we call this 'shadow work'. One way to do this is to get curious when we feel an emotion that seems out of place. The example given at the start of this blog, you're feeling a strong emotion towards someone that is leaving you distracted or causing sleepless nights, ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” Talk it through in therapy, or think or write it, moving deeper and deeper into the emotion of the “why.” As simple as: what is making me feel this way? Is this real, or is it a limiting belief I have created? In doing so, we are unravelling the reasons for our shadows.
When you can name what it is you hate so much about others and identify why it resonates so deeply with you, you can accept it, you can accept this is who you are and then work on what you could improve to be more at peace with the person you see in the mirror every morning. Tell the inner child in you that's buried away what they believed to be 'negative' personality traits in your shadow, that it's OK to love themselves. Try seeing each person as unique and complete, just as he or she is. Start with yourself and extend the compassion to those around you.
Who knows, maybe that person at work (wherever) is a just irritating & needs to do some 'shadow work' on themselves, but at least in exploring your own shadow you'll get to know (& hopefully love) yourself.
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Eve Houseman MBACP