“The Shadow Knows. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.” (Men being used here as the whole of humanity). In many cases, few truer words have ever been spoken.
I’ve chosen this title because of its significance to me on several levels. The Shadow was a popular radio show series in the 1930s that also was made into a popular comic magazine series and several movies over the decades. It is also an expression frequently used by some who are old enough to remember it, sometimes adopted into their vernacular as a commonly used catch phrase and perhaps most significantly of all, it’s completely true. The Shadow Knows. It truly does.
So what exactly is a (dark) shadow?
The “Shadow” according to Jungian psychology and postulated by Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung is the place in the human psyche where all the dark, unacceptable, shameful personality traits are unconsciously kept hidden from view. The repressed, the suppressed and or the disowned qualities of one’s conscious persona. These are the things that as the name suggests are dark, socially unacceptable, morally corrupt, ethically bankrupt and go against civilized societal norms and values. These are traits within a persona that one buries deep within them because they are well, very dark.
These are the traits that no one sees initially by the one possessing them, but over time when a balance upset is triggered and subsequently offset, (if the dark traits are left untreated lurking within the unconscious), they can begin to escape from the shadow and visibly out into view for all who know them well to see. Some examples are sexual preferences, deviant sexual interests, fetishes, breaking laws of God, laws of man, laws of the land and society, or other taboo curiosities they may or may not have acted on prior. Some of these may not be considered (by the person hiding them within their shadow) to be acceptable behaviors or expected standards of others. The balance between the light and the dark can become overturned by an upset, a life changing event or a disruption or identity ending in their life where one begins to live out what tendencies have been hidden inside their dark psyche, sometimes hidden for a lifetime. If the balance between the acceptable and the hidden (unacceptable) is shifted, one may see a person attempt to over-compensate for it by pushing the fulcrum to the other side. For instance a man who may have tried tirelessly to be a good, honorable, enviable man for many years exhausts himself into a crisis state or psychosis and begins to live inside his shadow where he is not good or honorable. These are very real traits but he has hidden them within his subconscious because they are undesirable. The shadow that he tried so hard for years to deny and keep hidden has come out. Think of it as a storage closet or a basement if you will where all your unwanted personal belongings you’ve hidden and held onto are put away and kept for years because you’re just not ready to see what’s there or sort through what’s kept inside. Think of the commonly used expression of someone having hidden skeletons in their closet. These are the dark secrets they keep locked away from view from others and from themselves. Unfortunately there’s really no way of knowing what dark things someone possesses in their subconscious until those features begin to come out of the shadow and present themselves. At that time it’s very easy to connect their new behavior with what they had professed to despise in others for so long. They will likely change friends, social circles and zip codes to somewhere no one knows them and those they do know will not be able to see what dark things they’re now living out that they’ve hidden inside their shadow for years.
There are different degrees of darkness within each persona’s shadow. Not everyone’s is as dark as some. As I said in a previous post, if one doesn’t address what secrets they hide inside their shadow, especially the darkest of shadows, one day they’ll wake up lying next to it wondering how it got there.
At a young age we begin to learn by observation and participation what is considered acceptable behavior in a civilized society and of course, what is not. Those behaviors vary depending on one’s culture. What may be considered rude or classless by one society may be acceptable or even an expected behavior in another. A quality such as selflessness for example may be expected in one culture, while another might promote self-advancement over putting others first.
When one has lived their life projecting their unconscious shadow onto others in a critical manner, it eventually causes a see-saw effect and a sudden, unexpected shift of power. The person pretending to be living in the light suddenly, without much warning becomes a person now living in the darkness. The darkness they possessed but projected onto others then becomes their life. The hatred they expressed (openly in some circles) for other races, homosexuality and homosexuals, promiscuity and promiscuous persons, the unethical, the characterless, the unrighteous, the liars, addicts and thieves are all examples of what can be inside the shadow. These are all the things that can be stored inside the shadow but once that balance is compromised, the shadow becomes their reality and they begin to live inside it allowing these dark sides to take over.
One can conclude the healthy yoking of the conscious and the unconscious would be to balance the good and the evil of one’s persona, the yin and the yang, the dark and the light, the positive and the negative. When one overpowers the other, there is chaos. When one is suppressed, like everything that is buried, it is bound to rise again.
For many of us who’ve witnessed the imbalance and sudden shifting of someone into the darkest parts of their shadow, we know how troubling and disturbing it is to see. It is however not entirely rare. The psychotic break that occurs within psychosis is indeed tragic. I have spoken with both colleagues and others who have had or seen similar experiences occur and while it is tragic, there is no assisting anyone who is unaware of their subconscious and the underlying psyche that has grown into power and is now in control as a result of the years of denial of its existence.
In order to live a fulfilled and truly healthy life it is imperative to have faced and accepted whatever is hidden deep inside one’s shadow. It is a very real part of our persona. It does not go away. The harder one tries to deny its existence the stronger it becomes. Like living in the light and denying the existence of the dark doesn’t make the darkness disappear. Looking at the world through the proverbial rose colored glasses and denying the existence of evil does not make evil nonexistent. In order to accept the good, the positive, the righteous, the honorable, we must first accept whatever undesirable traits exist within our own psyche with balance. Without this needed balance and healthy processing of these qualities one will inevitably one day as previously stated, find themselves waking up next to their shadow, and it will be a devastation for them and a fast moving downward spiral into a rapidly declining abyss and again, darkness.
The Shadow does, truly Know.