The shady perfection of a phoenix-like transformation
* This article contains behavioral descriptions that correspond, or are largely similar to, behaviors that have spawned from long-term exposure to mental and physical abuse. When you have experienced this kind of abuse, it is more than logical that you show some of the behaviours mentioned in this article. When you are experiencing this kind of abuse right now, please, seek the psychological and/or legal support that fits your situation. Know that you are not alone. You have the right to live your life without fear!
Batman and the Joker…in every story, there is a hero and a villain. But, in your story, you are both.
In your life story, all the bright and dark aspects of yourself orchestrate the melody of your personal song. A song that you need to hear first before someone else might experience it as shadow projection. But in order to hear it, you have to learn to listen not only to what you want or desire but also to what you are afraid of. Hair-raising as it might sound, your fears and your darkness aren’t detached from you. But if you keep pushing these unpleasant emotions, thoughts, and feelings into the personal shadow, it is going to affect your psyche and thus your behavior.
Therefore you should not eschew these nasty stressors. It is better to try to face them, analyze them and internalize them as soon as you are ready and, at your own pace. Because the shadow is a part of your identity meaning, it will always be there with you.
Shadow psychology defines the dark side of our personality. It consists of primitive and negative thoughts or feelings like jealousy, greed, confusion, sadness, etc. When we perceive ourselves as e.g. the loser, failure, evil, or undesirable, a perception as such becomes a part of our shadow.
The Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, one of my biggest influencers since he is one of the few that have attempted to bridge the notions of psychology and spirituality in an effort to discover ways to transcend the human condition, has captured the interest of both academics and spiritual seekers alike. One of his most powerful discoveries was his concept of “The Shadow” that, according to me, can be divided into a two-part idea ‘the personal shadow’ and ‘shadow projection’.
Although these are concepts that were developed by Carl Jung over a hundred years ago, they are still incredibly relevant and important for us today in order for us to maintain skillful interpersonal interactions with both ourselves and, toxic people.
The personal shadow, in a nutshell, is all those parts of our personality that we push out of our awareness. We do our uttermost best to deny that they are there. We don’t want to admit to them and we don’t see them. But, by placing it underneath a magnifying glass we become to understand that the personal shadow is a large part of our childhood.
For example, if you have spent your whole life being polite and kind you might end up being a people pleaser. You find it very difficult to say ‘no’ or to tell somebody something you know they don’t want to hear. Over time it becomes very difficult to speak your truth, to say what you feel, what you really think, or what you really want. This form of being polite has a high risk of resulting in people putting their ability to speak their truth into the shadow and grow silent.
The shadow is a ‘defense’ for many, especially for children. It is a defense against being shamed. It is a defense against being reprimanded. And so, we push all these ‘socially risky’ parts of ourselves into the shadow and pretend they are not there. But, obviously, being an adult means you have to be honest and you have to be polite. You have to be helpful and you also need to know when to set a boundary and say no. Not to mention that you need to know when it is time to ask for help yourself. So the problem, or better said the challenge, with this ‘defense’ from our childhood is, to come to terms with it before it becomes an unclear obstacle in our journey of becoming an adult.
As an example of the personal shadow interfering during your adult life, recently I attended a closed gathering of first responders working in the psychosocial and medical sectors. During this evening I spoke with a man (40) who told me a short version of his life story. He explained how he, years ago, fell into a severe depression and had thoughts of how he could commit suicide as painless as possible.
“My friends started to comment on my indifferent and absent behavior. And right at the moment, I was aware of having thoughts of committing suicide, I understood that I had a severe problem. I reached out for help. The doctor I spoke with wanted me to be admitted immediately to a closed mental institution. This never happened because I could explain that these were thoughts which I did not want to put into action.”
He continued his story and talked about how he had experienced the period of his therapy and what he learned from it. He smiled and said: “At one point in my life I looked into my personal abyss, today I am helping and supporting those people who are going through a similar situation.”
While I was listening to him telling about this part of his life, I was also listening to which words were emphasized as well as I observed his body language. And I noticed that in the moment he was speaking about the visual emotion of crying in general, he let his hand slight over his neck and throat. This subtle sign, in combination with his choice of words, the intonation when speaking these words, and the fluctuating in eye contact, showed that he is repressing these emotions from himself. In other words, he has placed them in his personal shadow.
It is perfectly normal to have a personal shadow. And, if you have ever felt embarrassed, you know that you have a shadow. In fact, personal or psychological shadow naturally forms when people form groups, and become part of communities. In fact, getting a shadow is a big part of learning really important values and virtues as we grow up as children.
But dwelling on the past in order to come to terms with our shadow is something many don’t like to do; we are eager to wipe the slate clean and start fresh on a path toward a tomorrow we hope will be brighter than yesterday. But pushing forward without a backward glance once in a while can be hazardous to our mental health. I mean, every now and then we must remember to press “Pause” to intentionally focus on the past and present. Because those times we pause and how deeply we reflect directly affect our future destiny.
Shadow projection and its behaviours
In Jungian psychology, the shadow (also known as id, shadow aspect, or shadow archetype) is either an unconscious aspect of the personality that the conscious ego does not identify as itself; or the entirety of the unconscious.
Jung discovered that the Shadow can provide great insight and revelation. He also knew that it can do a lot of damage to one’s psyche if not integrated. Repression or failure to embrace the Shadow is a recipe for psychological trouble. The Shadow cannot be destroyed, and even if it is repressed into the darkness, its tentacles will still surface.
But even though these unwanted thoughts and feelings may appear in murky dreams and spontaneous visions in various forms they, sometimes, overwhelm a person’s actions. For example, when the conscious mind is shocked, confused, or paralyzed by indecision.
This brings us to those people that set us off and, the second part of this idea is shadow projection.
PIC (a man and his shadow) Carl Jung’s “Shadow,” is a symbol that represents the hidden side of every human psyche. The Shadow is composed of hidden aspects of an individual’s personality that are deemed as “unacceptable,” and tucked away into the hidden parts of their mind.
Jung writes that if these shadowy projections remain hidden, “the projection-making factor then has a free hand and can realize its object—if it has one—or bring about some other situation characteristic of its power.” These projections insulate and harm individuals by acting as a constantly thickening veil of illusion between the ego and the real world.
Here are 7 behaviours that show the execution of shadow projection which many will instantly recognize as narcissistic behavior. This recognition undoubtedly raises the question if the altered reality the narcissist is claiming to be a reality, is nothing more than his/her huge personal shadow.
- A tendency to harshly judge others.
- Pointing out one’s own insecurities as flaws in another.
- A quick temper with people in subordinate positions of power.
- Frequently playing the ‘victim’ of every situation.
- A willingness to step on others to achieve one’s own ends.
- Unacknowledged biases and prejudices.
- A messiah complex.
Here is another piece of shadow projection that is very common. We all have these moments that we are not particularly proud of. We might have been a little petty, we might have been a little greedy, and we might have been a little egocentric. There are all these little bits of ourselves and we are like “Nope, I’m not really like that. I’m not like that.” But then we see somebody who is not afraid to show their greed or their pettiness or their shine, what sets us off.
Take a step back and own up to some of your lesser angels.
Although there will always be those toxic people like the narcissist who intentionally project their personal shadow on you, let’s think about some of those people that set you off without them meaning to. Goose bumpy but, there is a very good chance that what they are showing us is something we have been ’trained’ to be afraid of. Something about ourselves we have been taught to fear. And so, we put these unmet needs, thoughts, and emotions, into our shadow. Then, when we see somebody who is not afraid to meet them, we get really set off.
You can tell when this is happening because outwardly you disapprove of what the person is doing or saying “I can’t believe they are doing that. I can’t believe they are talking like that.” but secretly your shadow envies but there is some fear behind it.
Shadow characteristics are mostly formed by shame, fear, and insecurity. These characteristics are thoughts, desires, wishes, feelings, cravings, and urges that one’s own ego does not accept. For example, in the case of a sexual taboo (e.g. homo- or bisexuality), you may have heard that certain behaviors or desires are not acceptable by your family or the community you are living in. So, you cast them into the shadow- only to show themselves when the environment is safe from judgment.
Shadow traits can also be positive aspects of a personality. Maybe you have associated your natural assertiveness with shame because you were disciplined away from it at a young age. Or maybe your creativity was neglected because you were taught that it is less valuable than “hard skills.”
Dare today, shape tomorrow
A myriad of people are walking around with fear and anger but that does not mean they are projecting the content of their personal shadow and harming others all the time in order to hide these emotions. Those who, so to say, ‘uncover’ our shadow, are triggering our subconsciousness by showing us that we are afraid to see something in ourselves. And so, we get, in an unjust way, very aggressive towards the person that we project on at that moment. This is when we gain that sense of losing our personal power. But if we can just take a step back and say for instance all right there is my colleague and he is kind of being an arrogant know-it-all but, sometimes so am I. By doing so we can claim our shadow.
The more we become aware of our shadows the more personal power we hold. The more we become aware of our shadows the less anger and the less fear we experience around other people. The more we understand our shadows the less power and difficult and toxic people will have to set us off.
PIC (leave with text) When we feel judged by others especially if they haven’t come right out and said exactly what it is they’re judging us about, it may point to a judgment that we may actually have about ourselves.
I want to ask you the following question: how difficult or how impossible is it for you to say no when somebody asks us for a favor?
This sense of difficulty is related to a fear you have pushed into your personal shadow. We are afraid that if we say no this person might suffer. Or, what we are really afraid of, if we say no they are not going to love us as much, they are not going to like us as much. So we fear saying no.
One thing that helps people put in their shadow is their ability to draw a boundary and say no to other people. So even when we don’t have time to do this favor, even when it is going to compromise something else we are still afraid to say no and so we say yes. And maybe one day, suddenly somebody asks us for a favor and we just explode. The problem lies in the fact that repressed, unwanted feelings and thoughts go unchecked for a long time and, thus, they are cast in the shadow but, at some point, will bubble to the surface.
Now let me ask another question…how many of you find it difficult or perhaps impossible, to actually ask for help for yourself? The same obstacle, we are afraid. “If I ask for help I am seen as a burden.” So even though you provide help to people all the time, even if you are in the weeds and completely overwhelmed, this feeling of being afraid to ask for help is crawling up your spine because helping people put their ability to ask for help into their shadows.
Can you recognize the size of your shadow?