THROUGH THE

LOOKING GLASS DARKLY

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The web of our life is of a mingled yarn,

Good and ill together;

our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipped them not;

and our crimes would despair,If they were not cherished by our virtues

William Shakespiere. All's Weel ThatEnds Well

 

Alice, in her second adventure entitled "Through the Looking Glass", was again plunged into a mad-hatter kind of adventure by her insatiable curiosity. Stepping across the threshold of reality into the strange realm that lies behind the mirror and its reflections, she discovered a world that was the reverse of everything she knew and experienced. This was not the whimsical fantasy world of her first adventure. Lewis Carroll had painted a sombre portrait of a child’s fantasy world, one covered in the dim shadows and nightmarish reflections of persons and things from the real world. Perhaps, this is indeed the reality we fear most when we confront our inner self and face the mirror of introspection. What do we see in mirror but ourselves?

 

The term shadow refers to that part of the personality which has been repressed for the sake of the ego ideal.Since everything unconscious is projected, we encounter the shadow in projection – in our view of "the other fellow." As a figure in dreams or fantasies the shadow represents the personal unconscious. It is like a composite of the personal shells of our complexes and is thus the doorway to all deeper transpersonal experiences. Practically speaking, the shadow more often than not appears as an inferior personality. However, there can also be a positive shadow, which appears when we tend to identify with our negative qualities and repress the positive ones. I will return to this special instance later.

 

According to Jung, "the Shadow is a moral problem which challenges the whole ego personality; no one is able to realise the Shadow without a considerable expenditure of moral resolution. To confront it involves recognising the dark aspects of the personality as actually present and morally binding. Such confrontation is the essential condition of any kind of self-recognition."Actually, the Shadow is the reverse of the positive, gracious agreeable persona (see preceding chapter). The shadow is archetypal, but it feeds on all the derogatory or nasty things thought but not said as we smilingly shake hands, pretending cordiality belied by our negative feelings; it is our cold indifference, our procrastinations, our laziness, our self-indulgence. The shadow is the way we over-do some things and overstate others; our braggadocio and cowardice, our ever-quick criticism of even our dearest and nearest; our backbiting, our carping, our envy, our murkiness and smut.

 

The shadow contains more of man’s basic animal nature than any archetype does. Because of its extremely deep roots in evolutionary history, it is probably the most powerful and potentially the most dangerous of all the archetypes. It is the source of all that is best and worst in man, especially in his relations with others of the same sex. We also mentioned in the last chapter that the persona has an effect on the development of the shadow. The more one becomes identified with the persona, the stronger will the shadow become.

 

Jung believed that, just as an individual can have a personal shadow, so a society can have a collective one. For example, before the Second World War, the people of Germany, like those of most nations, had an idealised image of themselves. They sincerely believed that they were civilised, and progressive. They had espoused values such as liberty, equality and democracy. This is their collective persona. But just as an individual may be ‘less than he imagines or wants to be,’ so too with a nation or a group of any kind. It will carry a shadow, and the less the shadow is acknowledged at a conscious level, the more dangerous and sinister it will be. One has only to recall the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party to see how the shadow can burst through the veneer of civilisation, in a nightmarish splurge of violence, murder and destruction.

 

But the archetypal Shadow is not all black. The Shadow is strength and power. Jung also points out that energy in itself is neither good nor bad, neither useful nor harmful, but neutral since everything depends on the form into which energy passes. Form gives energy its quality. And so the shadow also carries as well all those psychic elements that have not been selected to make the conscious adaptation. So when we speak of weaknesses and strengths we may only be doing so from the moral point of view that puts positive value on the latter. We will consider this matter of moral evil in the framework of Jungian psychology in a later chapter. Suffice to state here that the shadow also has a positive value, at least in its potential. There is no shadow without consciousness, no darkness without light. The shadow is a necessary aspect of man; he would be incomplete; utterly shallow without it. The person who suppresses the animal side of his nature may become civilised, but he does so at the expense of decreasing the motive power for spontaneity, creativity, strong emotions, and deep insights. He cuts himself off from the wisdom of his instinctual nature, a wisdom that may be more profound than any learning or culture can provide. In short, the shadow archetype gives man’s personality a full-bodied, three-dimensional quality. These instincts are responsible for man’s vitality, creativity, vivacity and vigor. Rejection of the shadow flattens the personality. And so the shadow may indeed prove to be "the stone which the builders rejected," a ‘stumbling block’ to those who fail to recognise its potential, but a ‘corner stone’ for those who do.

 

A recent movie, Gattaca, set in the not too distant future presents an age where discrimination has been institutionalised in favour of genetic superiority. The protagonist of the story is a ‘vitro,’ ‘god-child,’ ‘natural-birthed’ child which automatically renders him a reject of his society, a society which places absolute trust and faith on genetic engineering to determine that the issue of potential parents would not have any of the ‘defects’ or ‘limitations’ that may be inherited, for example, myopia, heart-condition, weaknesses, low I.Q. etc. We already see him as a child constantly struggling to meet the expectations of his parents who decided to have a second son genetically conditioned, and thus theoretically ‘superior’ to our hero. The story unfolds with our hero going to great lengths to overcome his personal ‘handicap,’ even to the extent of fraudulently assuming the identity of a ‘genetic elite’ (who had been paralysed as a result of an accident) to attain his career goals. The point that the writers of the story may have been trying to communicate is that a genetically superior society (minus all the woes which we may inherit genetically), one which has suppressed all potential weaknesses, does not necessarily guarantee a vital and creative race capable of adapting to changes and failures. In fact, the genetically engineered elite of the movie come across as two-dimensional and complacent of themselves.

 

M. Esther Harding retells an old legend of a man to whom the devil came and offered great wealth and his heart’s desire. We are all too familiar with stories of such potential Fausts and Maephistoles and the ‘cost of the gift.’ The man, of course, was intrigued by the offer but, being of a cautious disposition, asked what price the devil wanted for his great gifts. The devil answered, "A mere nothing, something of no weight or substance, which can surely be of no value to you." "What can that be?" asked the man, and was told, "Only your shadow." Not realising at all what he was giving up, the man agreed. He received the gift of wealth and went his way – minus his shadow. But then his troubles started, because nothing he did held any reality or substance, and when people began to notice that he cast no shadow they said he could not be a human being at all but must be a spirit having an evil intent, and they fled from him in fear. At last the man could stand his isolation no longer and went to look for the devil to demand his shadow back again. But the devil could not be found, for he cast the man’s shadow round him like a cloak and became invisible. He always stood just in the man’s shadow. This legend teaches a psychological truth. For if one does give away one’s shadow in order to gain wealth or any other desirable good, that is, if one represses the shadow, allowing it to fall into the underworld of the unconscious, all the evil of the nether darkness can find its way into one’s life without arousing awareness or suspicion in oneself, though to others the diabolical effect one produces may be exceedingly obvious.

 

Apart from what was said earlier, the shadow may also be seen as possessing potentially good qualities if the ego formation has been based on one’s inferior qualities. When one is unable to integrate one’s positive potential and devalues oneself excessively, or if one is identical – for lack of moral stamina for instance – with one’s negative side, then the positive potential becomes characteristic of the shadow. In such a case the shadow is a positive shadow; it is then actually the lighter of the ‘two brothers.’ In such a case, as we shall see later, dreams will also try to bring into consciousness that which has been unduly disregarded: the positive qualities.

 

As a child I grew up with a neurotic fixation of religion or rather religiosity. The bible and the commandments of the Church to a young child may seem extremely oppressive, violent at times, exacting and legalistic. Morbid descriptions of hell fire, the suffering which Jesus had to undergo for our sake had all left an indelible impression on me. By the time I entered secondary school, I was already suffering from an unhealthy religious disorder consisting of neurotic conceptions of God, judgment, punishment, divine commandments, scrupulous piety and religious legalism. I had become extremely rigid in my religious observances. I see my reflection in the same misplaced religious piety of the elder daughter in the movie, Mermaids. A conversion experience just before my Confirmation critically changed my faith life. Fear was replaced by an experience of love. It was then that I discovered the contemplative spirit of prayer. However, the neurotic fears and ‘hang-ups’ had not been really removed, they had just gone ‘down-under.’ The ‘enlightening’ university days of alternative ideas, philosophies and changing values made me aware that my ‘faith’ was not really as infallible as I previously thought it to be so. Instead of sieving out the unhealthy notions from the valid religious experiences, I began to consciously repress all inclinations, thoughts and experiences that were remotely spiritual viewing them as symptoms of simplistic piety and even fanaticism. I had also banished my contemplative side in favour of the action of social justice. Although I began to recover my faith after graduating, I never really got over my internal generalisations of religious experiences and persons who profess to have them. I see myself as extremely liberal and open-minded, and therefore not susceptible to simplistic religious manipulations. I would view with much suspect and caution others who demonstrate the same religious piety that I had practiced as a child, and term them as either blind-adherents to faith or hypocrites. What I had failed to recognise was that I had indeed repressed my potentially good spiritual energies and values. I was unable to differentiate between my neurotic religious notions and genuine spiritual experiences, thus I chose to repress both. This would often reveal itself in two extreme forms – refusal to conform to standard religious practices especially when in public; and a renewed sense of spirituality when alone or sudden profound spiritual insights.

 

As mentioned earlier, the shadow contains the basic or normal instincts, and is the source of realistic insights and appropriate responses that have survival value. These qualities of the shadow are of great importance to the individual in time of need. One is often faced by situations that require immediate decisions and reactions; there is no time to evaluate the situation and think about the most suitable response. Under such circumstances, the conscious mind (ego) becomes stunned by the sudden impact of the situation, which allows the unconscious mind (shadow) to deal with it in its own way. If the shadow has been allowed to individuate, the reactions of the shadow to threats and dangers may be very effective. But it the shadow has been repressed and remains undifferentiated, the surging forth of man’s instinctive nature may further overwhelm the ego and cause the person to collapse into helplessness.

Development of the Shadow

We already know that the shadow is the reverse side of our conscious ideals and values. But how does it develop? Its development can be seen as being parallel to the development of the ego. As individuals, we each have a conscience, a superego or ideal self that represents the kind of person we think we should be. We had already seen in the last chapter how the ego acts as watch-guard of the conscious, filtering all forms of experiences and memories. The superego or ideal self is largely formed by our experiences of growing up. As young children are taught certain values and are judged good when we conform to them and bad when we do not. Gradually we learn to hide, lie about, or repress those "bad" aspects of ourselves, since these are things that bring the pain of parental disapproval and punishment. These rejected and repressed parts do not disappear, however; rather, they go underground and form part of the personal shadow.

 

Whenever the darker, weaker side of our nature, with its primitive urges and feelings threatens our ego ideal, we reject it. It is buried in the wells of the unconscious. They do not disappear however, they continue to function as an unseen alter ego which seems to be outside oneself. From the unconscious it can poison consciousness with negative moods, attitudes and urges.

 

Handling anger has always been one of the most difficult emotional tasks for me. I had already narrated in the first chapter how people (including myself) would be shock by my sudden outbursts of anger. I can now recall the gradual process of repression involved. My parents had always been very strict when any of us children showed our tantrums. My sister was especially temperamental (she was in her late teens when I was just in primary school). Having personally witnessed her hysterical outbursts and fights with my parents, I soon began to fear this untamed emotion. It was as if madness simply possessed a person rendering him a devouring demon (a Kali of a sort). I soon began to suppress and repress my emotions, controlling them, always maintaining a ‘cool and collected’ fašade (this has also contributed to the development of one of my personas – logical, rational, emotionless Michael). But obviously one is never immune to hurts, taunts, pain, and other forms of stimulation which provoke this most primitive of all emotions. Initially, I would be susceptible to depressions. But gradually, when the pressure had reached pass boiling level and my conscious ego was unable to keep the lid on, this anger will emerge with a vengeance, boiling over and resulting in me hitting out at others.

 

The same pattern can be recognised in respect of my attitude to and aptitude for music. But here is a potentially good shadow. When I was asked to play the organ in my Initiation Year at seminary, there was a great inner resistance to do so. I told everyone, "I hate playing the organ." I even gave the excuse that my organ teacher had once told me that I was not naturally gifted for music. I expressly resented and hated playing the organ, not realising that my conscious ego had repressed my personal inclination and liking for music. As a child, my dad would always boast of my gift for music to his friends and relatives. Whenever they came over for a visit, I was required to perform for them. I hated being made the centre of attention and the cause for his boasts. On one occasion I refused to play to the annoyance of my father. I ran up to my room crying, locking the door behind me. He, being a disciplinarian and not wishing to loose face, came right after me. But I refuse to open the door even under threat of the cane. I remembered that occasion vividly because he never asked me to play in public again. I soon developed a distaste for playing the organ – every lesson was a tedious chore. My ego was telling my psyche – ‘Playing is unpleasant! Playing is showing off!’ During a recent retreat, I had a dream where I was playing the organ. It was frustrating because I was sitting in an enclosed niche of the church and I couldn’t see what was happening in the sanctuary or even in the main area where the congregation sat. Unreasonable instructions were being given and I was struggling to keep up with the singing. This dream enabled me to recognise this particular shadow of mine. I had not consciously explored my own capabilities and had not allowed my inclinations to develop. Embracing this positive shadow has helped me to explore my own creativity and has brought joy to making music.

 

Apart from conflicting with our own superego and ideal self, the shadow also contains those parts of us that are in conflict with collective ideals, that is, those ideals valued by groups to which we belong outside the family. In a seminary environment, it is inevitable that a seminarian identifies himself with its values and ideals in such a way that they became his own. Similarly, each group holds up certain attitudes and behaviours for its members to follow; it is expected that all will strive to live up to those ideals – the group possesses a superego, that serves as a guide to help each individual to behave in ways that conform to group expectations. I will probably try to control the expression of those unacceptable aspects of myself (which may not fit with the group’s superego) in order to make myself acceptable to the group. This can be the danger of community living especially when the notion of unity is confused with that of conformity. Although some form of common identity must be established, the uniqueness of each individual, warts and all, must be respected and even in many circumstances preserved.

 

How are the darker aspects of us repressed? Again, repression (like the superego and the shadow) is an unconscious defense mechanism that originates in early childhood and serves a necessary protective function that allows ego development to take place. The most important psychological task in childhood is the development of a strong, unified ego-identity. In order to achieve self-identity, a child must repress those aspects of his or her personality that are unacceptable, that do not conform to the parents’ image of who the child should be. Sexual impulses, anger, selfishness and wilfulness are qualities that often evoke parental disapproval. Consequently, the child learns to hide these feelings, because the message received is that these parts of the self are bad or unacceptable. Repression serves to protect the young, insecure, ego from feelings of fear and failure that would prevent the development of a strong sense of personal identity. Later in life, however, if repression continues to be a person’s major defense, his or her way of dealing with faults and failings, an unhealthy situation develops in which the person’s self-image is based on falsehood or illusion.When persisted, repression always lead to psychopathology.

 

Somehow, almost everyone has the feeling that a quality once acknowledged will of necessity have to be acted out, for the one state which we find more painful than facing the shadow is that of resisting our own feeling urges, of bearing the pressure of a drive, suffering the frustration or pain of not satisfying an urge. I have already shared my own personal experience in respect of anger. Hence in order to avoid having to resist our own feeling urges when we recognise them, we prefer not to see them at all, to convince ourselves that they are not there. Repression appears less painful than discipline. Unfortunately it is also more dangerous, for it makes us act without consciousness of our motives, hence irresponsibly. Even though we are not responsible for the way we are and feel, we have to take responsibility for the way we act. Rather than blaming others for causing my anger, I must be prepared to take responsibility for it. Therefore we have to learn to discipline ourselves. And the discipline rests on the ability to act in a manner that is contrary to our feelings when necessary. Repression is the opposite of discipline. Discipline implies the facing of an issue or of a negative quality and the decision to resist it under certain circumstances, knowing however that one cannot resist all drives at all times. But once the drives are released, they must be disciplined. The shadow, must within the context of discipline, have its place of legitimate expression somehow, sometime, somewhere.

Recognising the Shadow

Recognition of the shadow can bring about very marked effects on the conscious personality. The very notion that the other person’s evil could be pointing at oneself carries shock effects of varying degrees, depending upon the strength of one’s ethical and moral convictions. It takes nerve not to flinch from or be crushed by the sight of one’s shadow, and it takes courage to accept responsibility for one’s inferior self. When this shock seems almost too much to bear, the unconscious usually exerts its compensatory function and comes to our aid with a constructive view of the situation, usually in the form of a dream. Such a close scrutiny of oneself, of course, requires courage. Many people are afraid to peer into their souls, to face the truth about themselves.

 

The shadow when it is realised and recognised is the source of renewal. When there is an impasse, a sterile time in our lives – despite an adequate ego development – we must look to the dark, hitherto unacceptable side which has not been at our conscious disposal. Reminiscent of that climatic question posed by Peter to Jesus as to his identity, Goethe in his Faust has the devil say of himself when asked, "Who are you then?" that he is, "part of that Power which would the Evil ever do, and ever does the Good." This brings us to the fundamental fact that the shadow is the door to our individuality. In so far as the shadow renders us our first view of the unconscious part of our personality, it represents the first stage toward meeting the Self. There is, in fact, no access to the unconscious and to our own reality but through the shadow. Only when we realise that part of ourselves which we have not hitherto seen or preferred not to see can we proceed to question and find the sources from which it feeds and the basis on which it rests. Hence no progress or growth in analysis is possible until the shadow is adequately confronted – and confronting means more than merely knowing about it. It is not until we have truly been shocked into seeing ourselves as we really are, instead of as we wish or hopefully assume we are, that we can take the first step toward individual reality.

 

Identifying the Shadow is a pioneer work for every person since every individual is unique although each shares in the collective gamut of human attributes. The shadow manifests itself in a variety of ways in our everyday lives. Learning to recognise it when it appears is a valuable means for growth in self-knowledge. The more we can open ourselves to see the truth of who we are, both strengths and weaknesses, the more whole and holy we can become. However, Generalisations can be more misleading than helpful, but the following rules-of-thumbs proposed by Maria F. Mahoney, a Jungian therapist, should provide some form of guidance at detection of one’s shadow.

  1. We can suspect our own Shadow by pinpointing what makes us angry in other people. There may be a truth about us, something we don’t want to see because we hate that part of ourselves. Our most bitter enemies are usually the carriers of the projection of that which we hate most about our own selves but our incredible self-duplicity manages to conceal the truth from our consciousness. This, indeed, is a bitter pill to swallow – the realisation that those whom we blame as having caused us the most psychic pain are actually mirrors of the those same odious qualities which we have rejected in ourselves. Often we cannot forgive ourselves for having certain qualities and many punishments are meted out to ourselves by ourselves in secret unconscious rage over our repressed Shadows.
  2. We can suspect our own Shadow by the amount of satisfaction we feel at other people’s weaknesses or failings. Surprising? Well, lamentably perhaps, we are so constituted psychologically that we do not really resent the weakness of other people; it may even gives us a pleasant feeling of superiority when not carried to the extreme of introjecting others’ defects as our own shortcomings. I remember the many occasions where I enjoyed a good laugh with others over the misfortune of those persons whom I dislike.
  3. Our Shadows can often be detected by the reaction of other people to us. We have recognisable effects on those we meet which can tell us a great deal, if we want to read it the way it does read, and not like the lady who always quarreled with everyone in her neighbourhood. Rebuked once for this fault she replied, full of injured innocence: "How can I help it? I never saw anything like the tempers in the people I meet!"
  4. We may experience paralysing inertia in the matter of living good qualities positively. Curiously enough, there are people who live below their real level, actually repressing higher-than-average standards because secretly, though unconsciously, they do not want to take the responsibility involved in living something positive. Good qualities carry an obligation. And just the people with pure gold in their Shadow show the most resistance to digging it out! I have already cited the case of my attitude towards playing the organ which illustrates this point.

 

The above essentially deals with our reaction to others and their corresponding reaction to others. Noreen Cannon also suggest that our shadow may be detected also through the following manners:

  1. By observing our projection of the shadow on others (which we will return to later).
  2. Through Freudian Slips – a term used to describe instances when we mean to say one thing but say another instead. The slip is usually something embarrasing or hostile, something we had no intention of saying. If we honestly examine these mistakes, we might find that they reveal a hidden hurt or anger, which the shadow carries for us until it finds an opportunity to express it.
  3. Another way in which the shadow expresses itself is as another voice or person inside us – another self – with whom we find ourselves in dialogue. During times of decision making or inner conflict, that other voice that begins to make itself heard may be the shadow engaging us in an inner dialogue.
  4. Our shadow also reveals itself in dreams, the window to our unconscious (to be discussed in the following chapter).

 

Relating with diverse personalities in the seminary is a sure way to eventually recognising one’s shadow (unless one stubbornly refuses to accept the truth about oneself). In a community where many individuals are highly assertive and vocal, verbal sparring (and even threats of open confrontation) often brings one’s worse qualities to the fore. Although one may fail to recognise one’s own faults and failings, there is no qualm of the other to bring it to your attention especially in the heat of an argument. I’ve discovered many of my own shadows in such an environment. I have come to recognise the frequency of the misunderstandings that occur, the pattern in which they take and the persons with whom I usually share the experience. Because of the circumstances of the encounter and the blinding pain of our anger and hurt, we often initially do not accept the comments that come our way. Only after careful reflection do we recognise that we have been responsible for that incident – it is here that we can identify the unconscious manipulations of the shadow.

 

There is another area, Esther Harding suggest, in which we can observe the working of the shadow. When, for instance, we become aware that we have not produced the effect we intended, it may be that the shadow spoke louder than the ego. I have often discovered that in talking with an acquaintance with all the best intentions of being sympathetic and even emphatic, only to find that he was hurt or offended by what was said, and still more by the way in which I had said it, although I had thought my manner irreproachable. The way I said it most likely came from the unconscious, it was the voice of my shadow. I had intended to say something that I thought rather neutral or pleasant, and I say it in such a way, or with such an intonation, that it produces the opposite effect from the one we intended. Of course, my first response would be to blame him for his distorted perception of what was said. But after careful reflection, I realised that on many occasions that it was my own shadow that had spoken through me. So, I have become rather careful when someone complains, "It’s the way you said it." I need to ask myself whether I had been completely sincere in what I said – of consciously I was sincere, but unconsciously something else in me was contradicting what I said.

 

Although it is not easy to recognise one’s shadow, one may need to rely on the help of others, who more readily recognise our faults better than we do. Since we cannot see ourselves so we as by reflection, another will act as our mirror and provide us with the tool for self-discovery. There is a good example in the Old Testament. We know of that heinous deed of King David who stole the wife of Uriah and caused his death deliberately through malice and cunning. Sometime later, following his marriage and the birth of a son, David was skillfully confronted by Nathan. Modern day court dramas would pale at the skill and finesse in which Nathan exercised in doing so. The prophet began by appealing to David’s conscious ideal of justice. Perhaps he suspected that a more direct approach might evoke a defensive, unreceptive response from the king. So he told him a powerful story about the rich man who had exploited a poor farmer in an outrageous way. Unaware of his shadow, David reacted instantly and passionately. He ‘flew into a great rage with the man.’ "As Yahweh lives," he said to Nathan, "the man who did this deserved to die"(failing to realise that he had in fact past sentence on himself). The climax came with those piercing words of Nathan, "You are that man!" The scales of blindness fell from the king’s eyes. He recognised the awful truth about himself which led to genuine repentance. Prophets like Nathan are never readily welcomed. But we do well to listen to people who know us well and have our best interests at heart, such as friends, colleagues and relatives. They are often aware of our blind spots and will try to alert us to the truth about ourselves. And if we immediately begin to justify ourselves in an agitated and bad tempered way, it is usually a sign that we are anxiously resisting any encounter with our personal shadow. Because we are by and large too biased in our own favour, we need the assistance of a counsellor or director who are able to help us recognise our evasions and unveiled the secrets which they shield. For this I have to be thankful for the true friends who have pointed out my shadows in a caring and tactful manner. Many are ready to pass judgments on us (by virtue of their own personal hang-ups) without considering its effect on the recipient. Needless to say that their comments too have to be considered albeit objectively.

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