Each of us has an image of and feeling about who we are. We believe in this thing, we embody these traits, we embrace these values. Beneath the surface, residing in our unconscious, is another aspect of our identity. These are the bits and pieces that don’t fit within our carefully constructed persona.
Persona, by the way, comes from the Latin word for mask. It originally referred to a theatrical mask. Persona is a character that we create.
According to Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, the persona is the mask we present to the world. Beneath the persona is the shadow self.
The Shadow Self
Jung coined the term “shadow” to describe those aspects of the personality that we choose to reject and repress.
At some point in our lives, typically as children, we learned that it was not ok to express certain parts of ourselves. Maybe we learned it was not ok to be too talkative, to be proud of our own work, to get emotional or cry. Whatever it was, we buried it deep down and formed personalities around the more acceptable aspects of ourselves.
The parts that we buried are what Jung referred to as our shadow.
We distance ourselves from those behaviors, thoughts, and emotions that we rejected and repressed. We pushed them so far down that we might not even be aware of all of them.
According to Jung’s theory, these rejected pieces of our personality lurk unseen beneath the surface of our consciousness. They secretly control much of our thoughts, beliefs, and actions.
Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. — Carl Jung
If we want to take back control of our actions and beliefs, we must learn how to see our shadow.
We See What We Are
We can start to become aware of our shadow when we understand that we project what we don’t like about ourselves onto others. We see in others what we refuse to see in ourselves.
If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us. — Herman Hesse
Your annoying co-worker. Your irritating neighbor. Your friend who doesn’t stop bragging about her kids. Your other friend who always complains about how hard her life is. And the friend who exudes so much confidence you wonder whether it could be fake, even as you wish you could have a little bit of it.
We can see in others only what exists within ourselves. This applies to both “dark” and “light.” The qualities in other people that you hate reflect qualities in yourself that you hate. And the traits you see in others that make you wonder “how can I be more like that?” are traits that already exist within you.
How does this change how you look at other people and at yourself?
The Power of Shadow
If we remember this, it has the capacity to radically alter our lives. Because it teaches us that if we want to heal the world, the first place to look is within.
When we can accept all parts of ourselves as we are, then we can accept others as they are.