Jung and I: Part 3In Part 1 of this series, I introduced the concept of “taking oneself seriously” in defiance of the old cliché. In Part 2, I shared some of the foundations that were laid by believing in the desperate wickedness of my heart, and introduced the Jungian concept of the Shadow. A brief disclaimer before I dive in to this post: I am in no way a Jungian expert. I am simply sharing my own experience, and in that experience I developed my own understanding of the Jungian Shadow. If you are a Jungian expert, apologies in advance for any misrepresentation or oversimplification of the concept.
The Shadow is a true part of ourselves that we hide in response to something that shames us, usually in childhood. It’s important to understand that not all of the “shaming” activities that form this Shadow are necessarily unhealthy. For example, a child could be screaming and crying in a restaurant, or being loud in a movie theater or library—and a parent will tell the child “no” or “be quiet” or “you shouldn’t do that.” The child learns that this is bad behavior, and compensates. That “bad behavior” in a sense becomes a part of the child’s Shadow.
For me, I compensated for all the shame of having a wicked heart—wicked above all things (Jer. 17:9). Any sort of exuberance, any sort of self-confidence, was not to be trusted and was therefore relegated to the Shadow. So, when I experienced other people exhibiting these traits (exuberance or self-confidence), a few things were happening, internally, in rapid succession:
- I was seeing something that I had rejected in myself as bad.
- I was projecting this “badness” or “wrongness” onto the exuberant/self-confident person.
- I had a strong reaction of distaste and judgment toward them (and, in effect, toward myself).
- I had a longing to be like this person because it was a part of me I had neglected long ago. (I didn’t know the reason why at the moment; I only could feel the longing.)
- I hated myself for wanting to have these traits; for the jealousy and envy I felt.
- Because of the intense feeling of self-hatred, I started hating the person even more for making me feel so horrible.
In time I started to recognize this Shadow. I began, in a sense, to integrate the Shadow back into my own life and consciousness. These realizations came through years of discussion with my therapist, through reading, and through recognizing the feelings as they immediately happen (note: this is MUCH harder than it sounds).
Doing all this required intense self-reflection, and to do that I had to wrestle with the phrase, "Don't take yourself too seriously." Through the help of my therapist, when I instinctively tell myself: “don’t take yourself too seriously” I think: actually, this is the time to get serious and listen. “Taking yourself seriously” means that you are searching to know yourself. That you listen and understand what you are feeling. That you pay attention even to your subconscious—some would say especially your subconscious—through dreams. (Dreams—now that’s a whole different subject altogether. Fascinating, but beyond the scope of this blog.)
I don’t want to give the impression that I have overcome all the negative feelings, or that I have fully integrated my Shadow. I still struggle mightily with feelings of guilt and shame and with feelings of jealousy/envy that can grow into hatred. But the concept of the Shadow and of “taking myself seriously” have been two great tools to overcome these complexes and live life more fully, more authentically, and with more meaning.
I now have a different understanding of the verse: the heart is wicked above all things, who can know it? The heart is unknowable because of the shame and guilt that even normal, everyday life can bring. We compensate and we hide, and our true selves are twisted and bruised. We put guards up. We develop fear and use various techniques to quell the fear. Shame, also, has us hiding, not wanting us to show anyone what’s behind the armor. With all this fear and shame, we are kept from true connection with others. And here we are again at the true meaning of life: love. With fear and shame, love can’t live—true connection isn’t possible. Becoming fully authentic is vital in order to have connection with others. As I step my toe back into Christianity, I am learning how to come to God, and to others, just as I am.