OVERCOMING OUR SHADOWS
A SHADOW PARABLE. There was a man who was so disturbed by the sight of his own shadow. He considered himself perfect except for this black thing that followed him everywhere he went. So, one day he decided to get rid of his shadow.
The first method he hit upon was to run as fast as he could. But his shadow kept up with him without the difficulty.
Next he thought of drowning his shadow in the sea by swimming as fast as he could. This did not work.
Then he thought of pushing him off the cliff as he rock climbed. This did not work as well.
Finally, he thought of searing his shadow in the hot desert. “Then, he’ll have to leave me because he is not worthy of me,” he thought. But after a long day’s hike in the scorching sun, he was aghast with frustration because the longer he stayed in the desert, the larger and sharper his shadow grew.
Seeking to find rest, he found a lone tree in the middle of the desert and lay down under it. And to his utter surprise and contentment, his shadow just disappeared…lost under the shadow of the lonely tree in the middle of the desert.
THE SELF: HUMAN PERSON
Let’s start our lecturette with this basic assumption: each of us is born into this world with a Body (soma, sarx), Mind (psyche, anima, soul) & a Spirit (pneuma). These elements constitute the Self (w/ capital S). This corresponds to the NT Biblical total person:” …may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Thes 5:23). Generally, the human soul & spirit are interchangeably used. That’s ok. But technically, they’re not the same. The psyche or the soul is the seat of consciousness & unconsciousness, roughly, the mind. It gives life to the body. But what gives life to the soul is the spirit (pneuma), which makes it eternal. Death is therefore of the body alone, not the soul and spirit. (cf 2nd rdg. Rom 8:9.11-13).
The psyche (soul, anima) is our interest for now. The spirit is God’s gift. It will do its work on its own. But it will have to work on our psyche – our mind, consciousness & our unconsciousness. That is our responsibility: our gift to God (plus a healthy body too).
Now, this psyche, theoretically, as far as the mind is concerned, has at least 2 levels: the conscious and the unconscious. (Jung has a 3rd: collective unconscious.)
OUR THREE LIVES
Nope, not nine. We’re not cats. On earth, at least, we only have three: Public life – the real social activities & public relations & functions; the Private life – alone or with a friend or family; and the Secret life – the significant self (w/ small “s”) – realm of one relationship with oneself, motives, desires, principles, a wide range of contents known and unknown to the public and even in private. That’s the realm, too, of the psyche, with the 2 levels we said above.
THE EGO, THE PERSONA & THE SHADOW
(N.B.: The notion of the persona is one of the most influential concepts developed by Carl Jung, an analytical psychologist. I am not a Jungian, an avid follower of his thoughts on man and especially on God. In fact, I do not recommend his positions on these matters, which lead to new age foundations. I only find partial benefit in this particular structure of the ego, persona and the shadow. But even in dealing with the shadow, I do not totally agree with Jung and instead espouse a Christian approach. Ei, I’m neither a Freudian.)
►The Ego (Latin for “I”) is not the Self but just a part of it. It develops within the Self’s Conscious psyche through child development. Depending on how it develops, it can be weak (deflated), balanced, or disordered (inflated). The ego, being conscious/ aware, stands between the inner world of secret life and the outer world of private & public life, and its task is to adapt to both. The medium of adaptation that the ego uses is what we call the Persona.
►The Persona – therefore is not the Self (which is a lot larger in scope as we said above). The persona is just the self that one shows in public; derived from the Latin word for “mask.” it mediates between the ego and the external world of society (public & private). It is the role you play in the society; it shields from public & even private view what is personal, intimate and vulnerable. N.B.: the individual should realize that he/ she is not identical with his/ her persona. If this happens, the results can be devastating, if not for oneself, for others: e.g., egotism- an exaggerated sense of self-importance; egocentrism- concerned with one’s own endeavours most often at the expense of others, including chronic fatigue syndrome, neuroses, just to name a few.
Now, the ego, while it has to relate to the public & private outer lives, also has to relate with the unconscious level of the psyche. Remember that the ego wants to shield most secret part of one’s secret life from the outer world. While the ego can easily communicate with the conscious contents it has learned, like moral principles, virtues and values, rules and propriety, it also needs to communicate with the unconscious materials of the psyche found in the unconscious level. Why? 2 reasons: 1) Because the ego should know what needs to be protected in order to protect it. 2) The ego needs to be informed so that the way it deals with the outer world thru its persona would be balanced. The mode of communication between the ego and the unconscious secret life is what we call the Shadow.
►The Shadow is thus a psychic entity that stands between the ego and the inner world of unconscious. It is that portion of the self that we seek to hide, deny and repress. In analytic psychology, the shadow can leak out, can show itself in anger, depression, “Freudian slips”, anxieties, projections and other notions such as these. It is the unconscious part of the personality; contains weaknesses & other aspects of personality that a person cannot admit to having; it contains the “unredeemed” unrecognized, neglected part of the self, our “skeletons” in our closet.
And the less conscious we are of it, the blacker & denser the shadow becomes. Why? because these psychic contents that we repress, deny or run away from can never be corrected, addressed.
How does the shadow (unconscious) communicate to the ego (conscious)? Through dreams, fantasies, spontaneous imageries, slips of the tongue, and, through projections. Projection is a process of seeing your own unconscious characteristics, talents, faults in others and acting, behaving, accordingly. It is a normal & natural process that can be either positive or negative. Always accompanied by strong emotional reaction to a person object or situation. Example: falling in love (having a crush) as different from stable marital kind of love – where one is enamoured by characteristics or traits in the other which are either found in oneself but unrecognized or simply lacking in strength.
Worst case scenario of shadowed egos (ie., the ego had been overtaken by shadows, repressed, denied, unaccepted and even rejected for a long time & taking over the ego): We are shocked to hear news of axe slayings, beheadings, shotgun murders, kidnappings, massacres of innocents students by snipers, etc. These are often done by young adults whose entire family & self are also destroyed. Vengeance? How are these murderers identified by those interviewed after the crime? They are “good” persons, kind, generous, law-abiding, charitable, religious; “the last person one would expect to do such a thing;” “I can’t believe it; I won’t believe it;” and “He was such a shining example; it simply cannot be.”
WHY DO WE TALK ABOUT THESE?
“The glory of God is man fully human,” said St. Ireneus. We thus need to be whole and holy to give glory to our Creator. We need to do our homework preparing a healthy psyche so that the pneuma may truly transform us from glory to glory.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH YOUR SHADOWS?
1) Be aware of your shadows. Do not run away from them. If you are brave enough to withdraw your shadow projections – mostly in the form of unhealthy Complaints, Comparisons, Criticisms, Sarcasm, Angry Words &, Manipulative Behaviour then you become aware of your shadows.
2) Check your emotions. Nope, you don’t control emotions. You control your reactions. In the same way you do not control the feeling of hunger. But what you do and how you do it – that is your responsibility.
3) Live in the Spirit. You have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. If you live through the power of the Spirit, you will live (Rom 8: 12 -13).
4) Rest your Shadows under the Shadow of God’s Tree. Submit your psyche, mind, your souls, unto the powerful hands of the Maker, let the Pneuma breathe into you His forgiving love. But first do your homework. Seek professional help if need be; seek counselling.
At the end of every journey, take Jesus’ invitation seriously!