Meredith B. Mitchell

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            Working on the shadow is one of the hardest things I have ever done. It is a gut wrenching activity. Every time I have done it, I felt as if I were being torn apart. Each step feels awful, and I urgently want to free myself from having to face my dark side by denying that the shadow element exists. I would much prefer to do something clean and comfortable, for what lurks in the darkness seems alien and hostile.

            As you may know, the shadow is a mental complex defined by Carl Jung as all those parts of the personality rejected by the ego. Briefly, Jung defines the ego as the focal point of consciousness. So, generally, all those characteristics, feelings, urges, or tendencies that any of us vehemently denies -- generally with moral indignation -- as being contained within us, usually comprises parts of the shadow complex. A shadow can be "negative"/"dark" or "positive"/"light". We can deny that we possess qualities we find abhorrent or otherwise objectionable ("negative") as well as qualities we envy, long for, or admire ("positive"). In this essay, when I refer to the shadow, I generally shall be referring to the repressed despised, "dark" parts of ourselves.

            When we are born, our mental state is one of total unconsciousness where all our perceptual and behavioral potential exists in a kind of chaos, i.e., the psyche is undifferentiated. The Latin term for this chaotic state of mind is massa confusa, literally "confused mass." This undifferentiated state may be represented symbolically by the number 1 (one). In other words, the number 1, as an archetype, can be understood to characterize our chaotic, undifferentiated, homogeneous psyche or mental state at birth and throughout early infancy.

            Within a year or two after birth, we become aware of ourselves, as if the light of consciousness emerges out of the dark chaos or massa confusa (also known as the prima materia); in other words, the ego is born out of the maternal unconscious. We begin to perceive ourselves as separate from our caretakers and explore the outer world. At this point, the mental state may be said to be split between a vast, still chaotic unconscious and a germinating consciousness. As an archetype, the number 2 can symbolize the condition where consciousness becomes separated out of the unconscious. The Judeo-Christian creation myth - among many others -- images this split as the separation of the void into heaven and earth.

            During the inner state of 2-ness, the outer world is also split into two parts: right/good and wrong/bad. We are taught that certain acts are judged "right" or "good" and are associated with praise and reward; other -- usually opposite -- acts are considered "wrong" or "bad" and are associated with disparagement and punishment. As youths we tend to repress impulses that people around us dislike in order to gain the love, support, and security we need to survive.

            For example, we may be taught that it is "right" and "good" to be attentive and considerate of other people's feelings. At the same time, to denigrate, disregard and be cold to others' feelings is "wrong" and "bad." We learn what our caretakers' like from their agreeable reactions to us, such as smiling, nodding, and other bodily, as well as verbal expressions of approval and explicit rewards. Disapproval is communicated by such forms of censure as frowning, head shaking, admonitions, and all forms of punishment.

            In time we learn to bury impulses that we have been trained to regard as wrong/bad. With such training, there are at least three probable unconscious consequences as we continue developing. Firstly, we are likely to grow up deeply despising or feeling disgusted by someone whom we judge to be cold, self-centered or inconsiderate (i.e., having the qualities that we were taught were "bad"). Confronting such a person sets up a kind of sympathetic vibration in our unconscious psyche leading to a conscious reaction of rejection, because we have learned that the behavior is not acceptable. Meanwhile, we repress any reactions of that nature within ourselves. That leads us to the second outcome: when we ourselves behave inconsiderately toward someone, we do not recognize it as such (because the act directly arises from the unconscious itself), and if anyone accused us of being cold, we would vehemently deny it. Anger at an accuser or at someone we perceive to have an undesirable personality characteristic is a good clue that the shadow complex has been "touched." The third outcome draws on the second, in that we are very likely to react to the person into whom we project the shadow quality with that shadow quality. Consequently, we ourselves would tend to respond with cold disrespect and lack of consideration toward the very person we judge to be inconsiderate and insensitive. In other words, our reaction to them would be the same as our judgment of them - and we would not even realize it ... or we would rationalize it and feel it was justified.

            It is the emotional, moral reaction that reveals the shadow in adulthood. (We do not speak of shadow in young people -- even though we may be able to intuit what may become part of the shadow complex later on -- because youths are in the process of developing, and that is when the shadow elements are forming.) We can recognize the shadow best by such reactions as moral indignation, anger, disgust, and passionate distaste and by the vehemence of our denial that we harbor the very qualities we see in the person who is the object of our projection.

            I imagine the reader posing this question: "If we don't know about the shadow -- that is, if it is truly unconscious -- how can you say it is something we despise and reject? And if it is something we despise and reject, then why should I believe it is an urge or tendency in ourselves?"

            My primary sources of knowledge about the shadow are my personal and professional experiences. It began with my own analysis. The first clue as to how to work on uncovering the shadow in myself came from one of my analysts many years ago. I had projected my arrogant shadow onto someone, and the analyst suggested that I imagine how this other person would react to something I did or to a situation in which I found myself. It was a simple suggestion and almost escaped my consideration because it seemed to have been presented in a very matter-of-fact way. However, I thought about the idea and tried to do what my analyst suggested and found myself doing even more. As a consequence, I developed a technique that worked very effectively for me when striving to uncover subsequent shadow elements in myself. A simple outline of my approach toward expanding consciousness through the withdrawal of projection is as follows:

A. Procedure or Approach: the Opus
            (Assume that the projection of the shadow is directed onto a person named Z. Also, define "internal" reactions or responses to mean thoughts and feelings, and "external" reactions or responses to mean actions taken.)

            1. In fantasy, put Z in every possible situation in life that you can imagine and write his/her internal and external reactions to each one.

            2. Imagine how Z would respond internally and externally to the same situations you find yourself in (as it is happening). In other words, ask Z internally, "What do you think and what do you feel about this situation? What would you do here and under these conditions?"

            3. Imagine Z's internal reactions to your actions and reactions, that is, to everything you think, feel, and do. Ask Z internally, "What do you think and what do you feel about how I am responding to this situation?"

B. Discipline

            1. Always write or type everything -- thoughts, reactions, expressions - everything! When possible, keep a notebook with you wherever you go to record Z's comments and your dialogs with Z.

            2. Write for at least 20 minutes religiously each day, patiently and persistently, no matter how repetitious and boring the content seems to become. (This can go on for days, weeks, and even months.)

            3. Continue this regimen until you experience internally what you assumed to be only on the outside and until it feels truly acceptable.

            To illustrate the application of these procedures -- as well as the archetypal meanings of the numbers 1 through 4 (although the numbers 1 and 2 were discussed above) -- I shall relate a personal experience. Shortly after I received my Ph.D., I was introduced to a psychiatrist who directed three operations: he was chief psychiatrist of the mental health ward in a local hospital, ran his own well-staffed clinic, and headed a child guidance clinic at another hospital. He hired me to work at all three places. A social worker, whom I shall call Mr. X, also worked at all three locations.

            Before I tell you about Mr. X, I must first describe what I was like at the time we first met. As a child I was taught, through much physical abuse, to be a "good boy," who generally silently complied with what he was told to do, and a boy who honored the dictum that a child "should be seen but not heard." I developed a "nice" persona and grew up considering myself to be gentle, sensitive, thoughtful, warm, caring, and available to anyone who needed me, especially when functioning as a clinical psychologist. Throughout high school I thought that people who swore or used four letter words were crude and awful, and to be angry, crude, or nasty was an absolute no-no. Long after I graduated from college, I sincerely believed that I had rarely, if ever, been angry in my life, except at my parents and brothers. And until I had been in analysis for several years, I was quite unaware that there were times when I could be cold, cruel, insensitive, disinterested, and unavailable. I had much to learn about myself. Mr. X helped me immensely.

            Being on staff at the three locations entailed going to weekly staff meetings at the two clinics and participating in hospital rounds several times a week. Mr. X was always there. During these meetings, I grew to despise Mr. X with such intensity, that after a couple of months I didn't know if I could continue working at these jobs, if it meant being around him. Whenever he opened his mouth, out came vermin -- the proverbial lizards, toads, and serpents. His words invariably seemed to me to be inordinately and unnecessarily negative, critical, derogatory, insulting, and pessimistic. He would say such denigrating and hopeless things about the patients that I wondered how he could possibly help anyone. For example, more than once, during rounds, he verbalized something like, "That patient ought to be kicked out of the hospital. Working with her is useless. She's a hopeless case. We ought to discharge her and make room for someone else." In staff meetings I heard him make comments like this about a patient: "It's a waste of time to try to do anything for patient Mr. Z. I don't see why Dr. N spends any time with him," or "We're never going to get anywhere with [another patient]. Let's talk about someone else."

            In actual fact, there was an occasion when one of the hospital patients I was treating was involved; I shall call her Joyce. It happened during morning "rounds," when the psychiatrist interviewed his patients to evaluate their progress and adjust their treatments accordingly. Nurses escorted patients to a conference room where, one by one, they were ushered into a closed room to be questioned by the psychiatrist who sat at the head of a long table. Around this table, attending the proceedings, sat several therapists (including me), psychiatric nurses, and the social worker, Mr. X. When it was her turn, Joyce came in, sat down next to the psychiatrist and did not respond to any of the questions he asked her. Her silence filled the room. The psychiatrist finally asked her if she were refusing to respond, and she nodded affirmatively. When the psychiatrist asked why she refused to respond, she turned and pointed to Mr. X and said, "Because he doesn't like me." The psychiatrist turned to Mr. X and asked, "Is that true?" Mr. X's reply was sharp and firm: "You're darned right I don't like her. I think Dr. Mitchell is wasting his time with her. She doesn't want to get well. We ought to kick her out of here and make room for someone who would appreciate help." Joyce faced the psychiatrist and said, "See?" She was dismissed. (She and I discussed what happened at that meeting during our next therapy session, and that led to some valuable insights.)

            Several times each week my job drew me into contact with Mr. X. Each time I left those contacts with sick feelings in the gut, increased distaste, and profound disapproval of Mr. X., and growing anger. I was certain he did more harm than good to the patients with whom he came into contact, and I considered him one of the most despicable characters I had ever met. I even confronted the psychiatrist once with a passionate plea for an explanation of his reasoning (which I decided must have been faulty) in engaging Mr. X. I don't recall his response, but I made it very clear that I was absolutely opposed to Mr. X's managing people with emotional problems and I thought that his selection of Mr. X as a Social Worker was a grave mistake.

            As the weeks passed, I grew more and more agitated by my meetings with Mr. X until one day, when we had spent the morning working and convening in a hospital in Hollywood, I left to go home from a staff meeting feeling furious about some of his coarse comments. They seemed exceptionally harsh and full of criticisms, barbs and all sorts of unsavory negativisms. I began my drive home gripped by anger and disgust. As I drove north on the 101 Freeway, without warning, an inner voice spoke loudly and sharply to me, "You are having a Shadow reaction; Mr. X is a part of you!" I'm not certain whether I spoke out loud or not, but at least internally I yelled, "NO!!!! THAT CANNOT BE!" My shock and feeling of denial was very powerful, I suddenly felt light-headed, and was concerned that I might pass out. Fortunately I didn't, but I was shaking all over. On the one hand I continued hearing the scream of denial, and on the other hand a deep part of me knew that the voice was stating a true fact.

            Before continuing with this anecdote, I would like to detour a moment to honor my earlier promise to continue discussing the psychological/archetypal meanings of the first four numbers and relate them to my experience with Mr. X.

            To review what was stated earlier, when we are first born, we are at one with nature and all the contents of the unconscious are jumbled together in a single swirling confused mass. This is the meaning of the number 1: an undifferentiated, complex unity. Then, somewhere between one and two years old, we develop a glimmering of awareness that we are separate from others: that "myself is here, and everyone else is out there." Usually, a child at this emerging stage refers to him/herself in the third person, probably imitating the way others address him/her. The sense of I-thou, both in opposition to the outer world and to a rather frightening inner world (needs, dreams, fears, etc. all impose themselves on us), is represented by the number two. It is during this extended phase of our lives that moral development occurs; we learn right from wrong and adopt "good" modes of behavior and repress their opposite "bad" ones. This is a natural process; repression itself is not "bad." Based on the teachings in our environment, we develop attitudes and styles of behavior that bring us the attention and caring we need, and we relegate to the unconscious what results in disapprobation. We learn to say "Please" and not to say "Gimme!" We learn to be nice, polite, and helpful, and to ignore any impulse to be cruel, crude, and remain blind to others' distresses. This condition may continue through all of a person's life. I think it is safe to say that all humans at any age have one-sided views about at least some things. Bigotry is the projection of our unconscious, negative (repressed) feelings and tendencies onto those against whom we are prejudiced. Some people never examine what it is that they are projecting. But, in general, we all contain all human propensities in us; most of us simply decide which ones will predominate in our daily lives, based on a foundation of morality.

            If Carl Jung is correct, the next phase comes much later in life, if it comes at all. And it takes immense effort to enter this number 3 period. At some point, if we are open to it, it is as if some element in the personality perceives a distortion in consciousness and confronts us with that perception. When we acknowledge the distortion -- which implies that something from the unconscious is striving to breakthrough to consciousness -- we have taken the first step toward breaking the barrier leading us out of phase 2. I came to the door of phase 3 when I heard that inner voice telling me that my reaction to Mr. X meant that he reflected a disowned part of myself. Would I then take the steps necessary to fully enter that third phase? I would and did.

            For approximately four months, if I recall correctly, I spent an average of about an hour a day at my typewriter recording fantasies about Mr. X. I did not look for him in myself; instead, I set about imagining what he was like. In essence, I created a constant flow of fantasies about Mr. X, the social worker with whom I continued to have frequent contact, but whose private life was in fact utterly unknown to me. I did know that he was married and had small children, so I imagined his relationship with his wife and children. What did he say to them in the morning when he awoke and throughout the day? How did he spend weekends with them -- or did he? What did he think about and what did he feel while he was brushing his teeth, taking a shower, or deciding on which clothes to wear? What restaurants did he frequent, what did he eat there, and how did he interact with the waiters and waitresses there? What did he think about when driving to and from work? How did he talk to his parents? What did he think and feel about them? Did he visit them? What did he say to his siblings? (I didn't know if his parents were alive or if he had siblings, but in my imagination they were all very much there.) What did he think about when he was doing anything? (I imagined him in just about every conceivable situation.) How would he comment on the various things I did throughout my daily life?

            (After this had gone on for several weeks, I became rather curious as to whether there was any validity to my fantasies, because they seemed so real. So I asked Mr. X -- albeit very reluctantly -- to my house for an evening of dinner and conversation. Thank goodness he refused my invitation! I knew it would be a miserable evening of swallowing my anger and irritation at him and I wouldn't have been able to eat a bite.)

            Weeks and months went by, and nothing changed. I continued to perceive him as vile, crude, and insensitive; my daily writing seemed to have no effect on my reactions to him, either in my fantasy life or in my outer life. A lot of the writing was repetitious and uninteresting. But I stuck with it. I was driven to do the work and come to some kind of resolution. Toward the end, the realization hit me with a powerful force that I hardly had a shred of concrete evidence for any of my imaginings. I knew nothing about Mr. X's inner or outer life except what I observed, which was extremely limited. All of the reactions, thoughts, and feelings I imagined and imposed on him had to be in me, else where did they come from? Nevertheless, they still seemed foreign to my being.

            Then a miracle happened. Without any warning, I awoke one morning, and I experienced Mr. X in me! I myself felt cold, rejecting, and disparaging toward certain people where I had been conscious of no such feelings before. I suddenly could understand clearly why Mr. X reacted as he did at the hospital and at the clinics. But most astounding of all was the flood of memories that flowed into my consciousness for the next few days, as if a great door had been opened and I could see parts of my life that I had never looked at before. I recalled numerous occasions when I was told to kiss a relative goodbye and wanting instead to kick them in the shins. But it was the good-boy thing to do, so I kissed them. I didn't know at the time that I not only didn't want to kiss them, but I wanted to hurt them because I disliked them and because I felt forced to do something I didn't want to do. And when the old men used to pinch my chubby cheeks and tell me how cute I was, I hated it and wanted to hurt them back. If I had known the words, knew my feelings, and were courageous enough, I would have bit their hands and told them to go f... themselves. Wow! That just wasn't the me that I had known. I was such a "good" little boy! Such thoughts and feelings could not have entered my consciousness. Now, here they were -- all of them -- flooding into my awareness.

            After this happened, I not only understood Mr. X's reactions, I realized that I liked him, and thereafter we got along very well. (To like the person is not a necessary consequence of bringing the shadow to consciousness. For example, after I discovered in myself the projected qualities of a man I worked for at a different time in my life, I realized that he and I had little in common and I felt no interest in befriending him, but I did not find him obnoxious or upsetting. Still another person, who carried a different shadow reaction for me, became a very good friend of mine after I worked on what I had been projecting in him.) I found it interesting that, for a few years, Mr. X was very much alive in me, but quite separate from my ego. This is the indication of being solidly in phase 3, where a witnessing part of me could view both my conscious attitude and what previously had been in the unconscious. When I did my professional work, I generally reacted in my customary way, but I frequently heard Mr. X's voice in my mind commenting on what I was doing or what others were saying to me. Instead of feeling like an enemy, however, now he felt like a cooperative partner. As an accepted part of my inner self, Mr. X was often extremely helpful to me, and as time passed, I sometimes chose to speak the words he offered instead of the ones I might otherwise have produced. For example, I could confront clients with discrepancies in their statements or in disbelief at something they said. One client, a young man, told me that he had been a drug addict but had overcome the addiction. Weekly, he came to therapy sessions with apparent enthusiasm for developing his personality by working on dreams and other inner processes. He seemed the ideal client. Nevertheless, Mr. X was constantly in the background saying, "I don't trust this guy. Don't believe everything he tells you. This is a tricky character." I said to my inner Mr. X, "I don't see any evidence for your suspicion, but since you feel that way, I shall be cautious." After a time, the client asked me to use my influence to write a letter on his behalf, attesting, in part, that he had overcome his addiction. I tried to pursue the psychological meaning of his request with him, but I refused to write the letter. As soon as I declined his request, he disappeared, and I never heard from him again. In my effort to find out what happened, I learned that he was as deeply into his addiction as he had ever been.

            Phase 4 (one of the meanings of the archetype of the number 4) arrives when the previously unconscious quality becomes integrated into the ego's function. Eventually, Mr. X's voice in me faded away. I often say and do things like Mr. X might, but I am the one doing and saying it, not Mr. X in me. In other words, I no longer experience that part of my personality as separate from my ego. I can recall his voice as a memory, but he is not operating in me anymore as a complex. I assume "he" has been integrated. The process of integration appears to occur as a gradual, natural outcome of maintaining consciousness of inner opposites: that which had been the "good" reaction and the one previously denied and repressed as "bad." Since they are both now acceptable as response-possibilities, they reside side-by-side waiting to emerge in accordance with the appropriateness of the situation.

            Thus the shadow is exposed to the light of consciousness and ceases to be shadow. Instead of residing in the depths of the unconscious, it gains its rightful place as a function of the personality, becoming active whenever we find ourselves dealing with a situation in which the soul calls for that function.

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