Have you ever felt yourself acting in a way that seems to be “out-of-character”?
Have you ever felt too emotional, be it anger or envy, but you cannot seem to pinpoint the cause of that emotion?
Do you sometimes feel surprised on how you felt, thought and reacted during certain situations that you ask yourself if that was really you or your personality?
Carl Jung, one of the proponents of psychoanalysis, theorized about the idea of “Persona” and “Shadow Self” which could give light to the abovementioned phenomena.
Jung used the term “Persona”, which is literally translated to “Mask” in Latin; to describe the side of us that we wish to show the world as who we are. These are the aspects of ourselves that we like, recognise, acknowledge and accept thus, a “mask”. These aspects and characteristics are most likely influenced by the society and how we were raised by the people around us. They are labels and descriptions that we comfortably accept and live up to such as “I am a woman”, “I am a loving person”, “I am a diligent worker and obey the rules”, “I am a caring person and I genuinely want my friends to be happy”. All of these aspects and characteristics may be true but does not show the whole picture of who we really are.
Jung further described “persona” as a “complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other hand, to conceal the true nature of the individual”. As we use our “persona”, we tend to suppress or disown aspects of ourselves that we reject as we consider them immoral or indecent which consequently form our “Shadow Self”. Since we reject these aspects, we keep them dormant and untouched in the unconscious part of ourselves which will only emerge or come about when triggered by certain events or people. It is during those times that you find yourself acting out in ways that surprises or frightens you as they seem to be “out of your character”. For example, you identify yourself as a tough person and suppress your vulnerabilities, you may unexpectedly experience certain events that would trigger those vulnerabilities and cause you to suffer from internal conflicts.
At times, we may also project our shadows onto others. For example, you may feel irrationally irritated or disgusted to someone’s behaviours; unconsciously, it may be due to your suppressed fear of possessing those kinds of behaviours. On another hand, if you find yourself immensely attracted to certain aspects or characteristics of a person, you may have unconsciously suppressed those possessed aspects or characteristics (light).
Carl Jung elaborated that all of us possess a shadow and how we recognize and deal with it would affect our development. As we get conscious or aware of our shadows, we get a chance to correct them. Suppressed or projected shadows can be destructive. It could lead to depression, self-directed aggression or interpersonal hostility. Pushing down aspects of ourselves could really be tiring. In fact, many people find themselves chronically fatigued but they are able to benefit from psychological Shadow work.
Therapy and self-development is a process of uncovering both our light and shadow. Recognizing and accepting all aspects and dimensions of ourselves will lead to holistic health and true self-esteem. We can learn to integrate our shadows, which includes our natural propensity to sometimes be angry, needy, self-preserving and even being envious, by cultivating the capacity for self-compassion.
Learning to accept who we really are – the fullness of who we are, is the first and final step of self-love. Shadow work can help us get to know our suppressed and projected vulnerabilities which will serve as a foundation and one of the most powerful steps we can take towards true peace and aliveness.
Take home: HOW TO INTEGRATE YOUR SHADOWS?
You can start by spotting your shadows by seeing what others trigger in you. Ask yourself:
Do certain characteristics of others stir up out-of-proportion emotions in me? Who do I look up to? What characteristics or qualities of others do I admire?
When you find yourself reacting strongly to certain aspects of others’ personality and behaviours, either positively (your Light) or negatively (your Shadow), dig deeper. Take time to get to know what triggered your reaction, try to identify if these are caused by suppressed or projected shadow or suppressed light.