Recognize Your Unconscious ‘Shadow’ to Liberate Creativity

Woman in dimly lit roomI recently ordered Deepak and Gotham Chopra’s book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes on my iPad. I haven’t been this excited to read something since I read Carl Jung’s book The Archetypes many years ago.

Both books address the archetype of  “shadow.” Both Chopra and Jung describe shadow as a force of the unconscious that can be destructive, divisive, and self-sabotaging when it remains unconscious. Shadow is that part of the human condition, that most mortals attempt to ignore or deny in favor of a self-perception inflated or deflated by ego, neither of which can be sustained without some form of self-destruction. We see this in the lives of adult politicians, entertainers, and sports heroes who have been in the media lately for crimes of passion, adultery, and exploitation. The denial and repression of shadow has allowed ego to “act out” in blatant ways. Because shadow was repressed they thought they would never get caught or that they were somehow above the laws that govern the rest of us. Denial of shadow sets humans up to be destroyed.

In Chopra’s book, “shadow” is explored through the journey of the superhero. The superhero wrestles with the forces of good and evil. In doing so, the superhero recognizes that he or she has a shadow that possesses some of the very qualities that their enemies possess. The superhero embraces their shadow by getting in touch with it, bringing it to consciousness, developing compassion for themselves and thereby others, all in the mission of transforming dark, evil energies into creative, light energies of consciousness.

Jung explored the context of “shadow” through mythology and dreams. Mythological and dream characters, like superheroes are removed from mortal boundaries and expectations. They exist in landscapes where anything is possible. Joseph Campbell identified distinct steps of the Hero’s Journey that can provide a metaphor for our own life’s struggles. Metaphor can penetrate resistance and help us to gain insight into our experiences because the hero’s journey is one we can relate to and learn from.

Like many of us, the superhero often comes from a life of adversity. Chopra wrote that shadow can be found thriving in “abject conditions such as poverty, poor leadership, an ‘us versus them’ mentality, repression, deprivation, social injustice, torture, self-righteous morality, suppression of desire, fear, and conflict.” He goes on to explain, that the “shadow energy within us is destructive, divisive, and self-sabotaging.”

Chopra identified shadow as the “diabolical part of our soul.” How can we recognize our shadow? Shadow usually lurks behind our criticism of others. It is that nasty voice that identifies and picks at other people’s flaws. The funny thing is that the flaws that we see in others are often the same flaws that we ourselves possess. It is much harder to recognize this in ourselves but often easily recognizable in the folly of others. For example, have you ever heard someone who is very annoying because they never give anyone else a chance to talk, complain and go on and on about someone they encountered who does the very same thing? That is shadow, the super-villain, making an appearance.

Chopra says that we can see our shadow when we are in the light of consciousness. But first we have to recognize our shadow behavior before we can bring it into the light of consciousness. Once it is conscious we have power to choose to “act out”–meaning to continue destructive behavior that cuts off a vital source of creative energy–or to consciously stop “acting out” and transform the energy for a healthy, well-balanced existence. If we choose to do nothing, shadow will pounce when we least expect it and throw our lives into chaos and suffering.

© Copyright 2011 by By Barbara 'Basia' Mosinski, LCAT, ATR-BC, MA, MFA, therapist in New York City, New York. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Belle

    Belle

    June 12th, 2011 at 11:33 PM

    Oooo, Barbara! Thanks so much for bringing that book to my attention and sharing your thoughts on the shadow self.

    I find it a fascinating aspect of ourselves and what’s more intriguing is the lengths people will go to to convince themselves they have no shadow! I’ll be looking for that book on my next visit to the bookstore.

  • Abigail Givens

    Abigail Givens

    June 13th, 2011 at 1:13 AM

    We do need to embrace our shadow side. If we strive for perfection we can’t help but feel let down when we don’t achieve it.

    There’s no point in setting yourself such an unattainable and unrealistic target. It’s in our nature to be flawed and we are all the more beautiful because of it.

  • Graham Ashburn

    Graham Ashburn

    June 13th, 2011 at 3:06 AM

    Denying your shadow self is like denying the shadow the sun makes you cast is there. Despite your protestations, its existence is evident to all.

    Everyone has a dark side and to be honest, if I run into a person that seems too good to be true in every way, they scare me because they have such control over what side we see of them. No-one is that perfect. I’d be more comfortable if they got down or angry or swore occasionally even.

  • MariBeth

    MariBeth

    June 13th, 2011 at 4:24 AM

    I think that we all have those shadow battles. But they can be won and overcome! The key is to recognize the shadow, know when and where it will appear, and otherwise be strong enough to face it and to come through with the other elements of our lives that will lead us to more positive behaviors and outcomes.

  • Shane

    Shane

    June 13th, 2011 at 6:06 AM

    I do not know too much of this shadow concept but I can tell you,if I try to ignore a part of me then it’s not good for me.I need to be fully aware of myself.That is the first step-knowing yourself.We forge different kinds of relationships all the time,be it a friend,a partner-we get to know them.That’s all good but first let us get to know ourselves.Every little part of us,that is.

  • nancy

    nancy

    June 13th, 2011 at 4:42 PM

    This is all a little beyond me.
    But I am thinking of getting the book to try to read a little deeper and see if it makes any sense.

  • joanna

    joanna

    June 13th, 2011 at 5:53 PM

    at every stage life is about our fight with this shadow,isn’t it? come to think of it. everytime we want to do something there’s always a little something within us that has doubt. it is true for the greatest of people and the best in every field. there’s no escaping this shadow but it sure can be defeated whenever a contest comes up.

  • Herbinator

    Herbinator

    June 14th, 2011 at 8:40 PM

    If failures are the stepping stones to success then this shadow of ours is the inspiration for success too!

  • Vigilant

    Vigilant

    January 6th, 2016 at 11:59 PM

    I think that shadow could be equated with the death instinct. And the eternal human struggle between the life and death instinct.

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