Differentiating the Shadow (in Jungian Theory): Introduction

This series of posts is a preliminary run through an article on shadow differentiation I proposed (and hope to write if I can ever bring an elegance to this system of ideas).  As I tend to learn from and develop my thinking primarily through the act of writing (i.e., creating and failing), I figured I would just meander my way through the topics involved in this article to see what would be unearthed (in the hope that this practice would help me better understand what I should write in the article).  I made no attempt to organize and order or to resist any temptation for digression.  Digression in creative writing can be a threshold through which the Other or Self can enter into the work.  I know whatever it is I know today because I have wandered into many cordoned off areas to have a look see.  It doesn't make for elegant finished products, though.

The impetus behind the proposed article generates (like all of my ideas, I guess) from the necessities of personal experience.  I had used the Jungian concept of shadow extensively in my thinking and writing for many years, accepting its muddiness as part of the quasi-mystical intuitive comprehension required of all things Jungian.  Eventually, after striving to valuate the shadow in my own Work for years, I came to feel that the Jungian concept of shadow was flawed.  It was difficult for me to see this at first because I have always felt that Jung's construct of the shadow was probably the most important and fertile aspect of his psychological theory.  Both individuation (spirituality) and relationship (Eros) are extremely dependent on the "shadow work" we do (i.e., on our attempts to know, understand, and valuate our shadowy personality traits and the spontaneous psychic shadow phenomena of our dreams and imaginings).  Shadow binds and prefigures all things psychic.  Out of the shadow emerge the animi, the hero, and the Self . . . not to mention many functional parts of the ego.  In Jungian thinking, affect resounds in and is "lost" into the shadow . . . but as the psychic process, the Self system, is largely affective, this shadowing of affect is dysfunctional.  What shadow "means" to psyche is still inadequately understood, and I think, undervalued.

All psychotherapy and dream work involve extensive shadow work.  Our ability to understand, tolerate, and intimately relate to others requires a great deal of shadow work (or valuation of what is hidden in or discarded into the shadow as well as acceptance that those elements of personality that will stay shadowy will still have some kind of value and integration in the whole psychic system).  Our ability to peer into the "souls" of our tribes and grasp their dysfunctions requires significant shadow work (thus the Group Shadow Forum on the Useless Science Forum).  Our ability to treat either our own or our tribes' dysfunctions and ethical impairments demands devoted shadow work.  At first, the experience of the Self is largely shrouded in shadow, then we differentiate it somewhat . . . only to later realize that the Self is distinctly Other to the ego and will never be rendered fully egoic.  In Jung's concept of the shadow all Jungian ethics lie.  Jungian ethics are not often discussed . . . but due to the shadow construct, ethicality and Jungianism should be devoted intimates.  They aren't, of course . . . and this suggests that Jungians, as a tribe, have not done enough of their due shadow work.

As I have always focused on (and often identified more or less pathologically and compulsively with) the shadow so extensively, I have wandered into numerous avenues where the Jungian shadow concept, though rich, is too vague to be useful in application.  It became clear to me that a differentiation in the shadow concept was necessary in order for the concept to be truly useful as a metaphorical tool for understanding the psyche.  I'm not sure precisely how and when the differentiations presented themselves to me, but I suspect my first differentiation of shadow came in my critical reaction to the Jungian tendency to demonize anima and animus.  As my own experience of anima had never been as anxiety-laden as Jung's writings suggest Jungian attitudes should be, it long ago became clear to me that Jung (and many Jungians) had fused some kind of blackening shadow element to the anima that was not actually inherent to the anima.  Both extrapolation and experience with others' psychology and dreams (women, that is) showed me that the same tainted fusion was true of the animus . . . although the animus was significantly more blackened by the fusion with shadow, even to the degree that no positive value whatsoever was typically associated with the animus figure.

I saw this tainted fusion of shadow and animi as largely a twofold matter.  Primarily, the darkness attributed to the animi had to do merely with their inherent, numinous Otherness . . . and did not really deserve to be called "shadow" (where various negative connotations are implied).  Also, the shadowy aspects of many animi figures were often clearly projections of prejudice and fear from the ego that misinterpreted the "motivation" of the animi as hostile, seductive, destructive, humiliating, shameful, etc.  We could not, I felt, call these figure s genuine shadow figures when the only shadow in the equation actually belonged to the ego and was merely projected onto the strange animi figures.  Realizing this led me to chip away at the conventional Jungian notion of an "archetypal shadow".  There is no doubt an "archetypal" Otherness to the animi, but it needn't take on a shadowy form unless the ego disposes of its own shadow onto the animi.  In other words, much of the archetypal shadow is more accurately personal . . . and belongs, therefore, to the ego.  Not to instinct.  There is no archetypal-instinctual survival/adaptation purpose attributed to "shadow" as it is conceived in conventional Jungianism.  It doesn't provide a clear survival function (except perhaps to help the tribal individual feel greater anxiety toward and differentiation from an individual from another foreign tribe . . . but that still doesn't explain much of the behavior of the phenomenon).  The "purpose" most commonly attributed to shadow by Jungians is that of an innate capacity for "evil" in the human animal . . . but this is a religious or metaphysical idea (like original Sin) that is not viable in a scientifically reasoned theory.

Yet there is no doubt that conventional Jungianism, when talking about the personal shadow or the shadow that is "cast" by the ego, has characterized this phenomenon accurately.  But take this personal shadow (as a kind of collection of personality traits the ego specifically does not identify with and which are seen by the ego as inferior or undesirable) and try to make it accord with the idea of "archetypal shadow" (as a primal figure of pure darkness? evil?), and we are suddenly waist deep in the mud.  Although Jung and subsequent Jungians certainly have made a distinction between personal and archetypal shadow on an intellectual and rationalistic level (i.e., in linguistic categories), I don't believe any detailed study of purposive and non-dogmatic differentiation has been done by a Jungian . . . nor has the problem of conflating the personal and archetypal shadows been much discussed.  But it doesn't take a genius to see that a confusion of "archetypal evil/darkness" with personal, egoic undesirability/inferiority would lead to not only misunderstanding of Otherness, but probably severe dysfunction.  I.e., we cannot assume that our neighbor who has a different skin color, religious background, or lifestyle than us is Satan Incarnate, is something truly "evil" (of course, this does in fact happen unconsciously in many people's prejudices, but it cannot be seen as a functional or ideal psychological state).  Therefore, therapeutically, it would be important to differentiate the personal from the archetypal very clearly.  On the other end of the stick, we also have individuals who identify with their personal shadows and by extension, with "archetypal darkness" (a somewhat perverse ego-fortification strategy).

Although I feel Jung should be commended for his realization that each and every human individual is capable of unthinkable "evil" . . . his desire to dualistically see a dark or evil pole to every archetype was not, in my opinion, scientifically of logically valid.  It is a bit of theology.  Jung himself will admit at times that evil is, of course, relative.  What Jung dwelt less on was the fact that the relativity of evil (or morality in general) is a matter of tribal identity or membership.  What is "evil" to do to another member of one's tribe is legitimate to do to a member of another "competing" tribe.  What defines this kind of "right and wrong" is tribal dogma and indoctrination.  But archetypes (I would argue) are representations of instinctual processes that drive survivability and adaptation to environment.  There is a reason that only human beings can be "evil" while no other species is extended this dubious honor.  Tribal civilization defines evil and good.  Instinctually speaking, we have aggression, conformity (tribal self/other differentiation), self-interest, self-defense . . . but none of this deserves to be called an archetype of evil.  Yes, it can be bent to "evil" purposes (as we collectively define them) . . . but such archetypal evil is not innate.  And to say that it is is theological and belief-based, not truly psychological.

And yet, it also occurred to me that there was something that could be said to be archetypally Other.  There is plenty of instinctual Will in us that is not egoic . . . and is even frequently anti-egoic.  Jung saw this in his theory of dreams as compensations of the ego position.  We are beings of contradicting impulses and desires.  We are not of one mind.  In dream, fantasy, and artistic representations, we will commonly see figures that are non-evil others who seemed to be aligned against us.  Sometimes we will note a transformation within a given narrative of opposed Otherness into cooperative Otherness.  This is also a common fairytale theme: a dangerous, opposed Other is transformed by the hero into a cooperative Other perhaps because the hero doesn't fear the Other or because s/he helps the Other with some task.  Frequently these fairytale Others are animals, but they might also be Baba Yagas, witches, wizards, or wild men.

In one of my favorite types of Russian folktales, the Ivan and the Firebird stories, Ivan is aided by the super-powered, shapeshifting Gray Wolf after Ivan allows it to devour his horse.  The Gray Wolf helps Ivan obtain the treasures he is looking for in far away tsardoms, but each time Ivan does not listen to the Wolf's advice and is apprehended as a thief.  Still, he is pardoned by the tsars in exchange for going on a treasure quest for them.  In every encounter his Foolishness (and tricksterism) allow him to avoid the potential destructive conflict with an Other.  He is eventually murdered by his older brothers who are envious of his success (and coveted the beautiful princess Ivan had also acquired).  These brothers are not true archetypal Others, though.

This (often "animal" or instinctual) quality of Otherness in these tales and in many other dreams and artistic renderings that coordinates with and often facilitates the hero or heroic attitude is clearly a symbol of the Self.  That is, it is an instinctual organizing principle that drives the transformation of personality from a more static and decayed (dysfunctional) state to a more dynamic and reinvigorated state in which what we might call "libido" can flow throughout the system "animating" adaptivity and satisfying homeostasis.  This vision of the Self (so common in dreams and fairytales) is potentially antagonistic to the ego position, and seems to have the power to thwart if not destroy the ego.  But, to the degree that the ego adopts the heroic attitude, the relationship between the ego and the Self becomes cooperative and mutually facilitating.

Some time ago, I began calling this oppositional but cooperative portrayal of the Self, the Shadow-Self or Self-as-Other.  In psychic phenomena (dreams, fairytales, art, religious texts, etc.), there are innumerable representations of the personal shadow and the Shadow-Self.  That these figures deserve archetypal classifications among depth psychologists is unquestionable . . . and these classifications should be distinct from one another.

There are, of course, in dreams and fairytales also many representations of villains who are utterly unredeemable and cause no shortage of harm and conflict for the hero.  These figures are noted by Jungians as "shadow figures" just as those figures I would call personal shadow figures and Shadow-Self figures are also called "shadow figures" by Jungians.  It eventually became clear to me as I did more dream work with other people that it was incorrect to see these villain figures as in any way Self-like.  And it was not legitimate to call them personal shadows, because they were far too atrocious to fit such a categorization.  Moreover, in many dreams and fairytales, these villains are differentiated from both personal shadow figures and Shadow-Self figures.  As I began to try to map psychic phenomena to these characterized representations of villains, I started to see a very consistent theme to their portrayal.  1.) They are always imprisoning or controlling something or someone "sacred" (usually a beautiful princess or spiritual being, object, or resource).  2.) They seek ever more power, are terribly tempted by power, and this power lust is driven by a feeling of incredible impotence which they conceal at all costs.  3.) They hate, fear, and envy (potent) heroes and will do anything to eliminate heroic meddling (thereby attracting heroes to them and their precious guarded secrets unintentionally).  4.) In their "cause" (self-empowerment or fortification of their impotence), they will commit any atrocity, no matter how evil; they see any behavior as justified in the name of their "cause" . . . and they specialize in acts of terror.  5.) They are more frequently male.

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